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Last year, Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski was viewed as a luxury amidst an offense loaded with stars. The future Hall of Famer didn’t miss a game, playing in all 20 contests and playing well. But it wasn’t until the Bucs offense had to play without Gronkowski for a stretch of games that his importance was really understood.

That’s been the situation in 2021, as Gronkowski made his return after a six-game absence due to fractured ribs. The big tight end was outstanding on Monday Night Football, catching six passes for 71 yards on the big stage. Several of Gronkowski’s catches came on important plays, including a 35-yard gain on 3rd-and-3. The drive ended in a touchdown, a huge response by the Bucs offense after the Giants tied the game at 10 in the second quarter.

“Big play,” Bucs QB Tom Brady said after the game. “Big play and we needed it. Gronk always comes down with the big plays. He caught another few big plays too.”

“It’s huge,” head coach Bruce Arians said. “[Brady] had all day on that play to find him. It was like the fourth read. Gronk just kept running. That’s a big target to miss running across the field. He’s easy to see. It’s great to have him back. Really great, run and pass.”

Later in the game, with the Bucs driving for points before the half, Gronkowski went hulk mode on the Giants. On an underneath throw from Brady, Gronkowski carried Julian Love for five more yards and got out of bounds to stop the clock. Not only was it a heads up play to save a timeout, but the effort and strength were jaw-dropping.

“Gronk’s the best tight end ever,” wide receiver Mike Evans said. “So when you got him out there, it’s good for the

Gronkowski’s best play of the game came in the third quarter, with the Bucs facing a 1st-and-15 following a penalty. Working on Love again, Gronkowski broke over the middle of the field. Love mirrored the tight end’s route, but Tom Brady recognized the leverage and threw it up for his longtime teammate. Gronkowski went up and ripped the ball away for 14 yards. The Bucs would go on to score a touchdown to make the score 24-10.

Gronkowski’s big night was amplified in comparison to his replacements. Cam Brate and O.J. Howard have struggled to make an impact close to Gronkowski’s this season. Brate dropped another pass on Monday night, this one a big play that hit him right between the numbers. Howard has apparently been passed up on the depth chart by Brate. That’s not a great sign considering Brate is playing his worst football in recent memory.

“Every way,” Brady said when asked where Gronkowski’s impact is felt. “He is so dynamic in the run game and the pass game. Short throws, deep throws, red zone, third down. He’s a dominant blocker. He is just consistent and dependable. He has been my teammate for a long time, so it is a real privilege to play with such an incredible player and person.”

Brate and Howard were adequate at best while Gronkowski was out. But now that the Bucs’ top tight end is back, the difference is easy to see. Gronkowski makes the Bucs better on all three downs, regardless of his role. He’s the rare tight end that can run block and pass protect at a premier level too. If the Bucs can get all their weapons back in the coming weeks, their offense could take the league by storm.

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About the Author: Jon Ledyard

Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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14 days ago

Gronk keeps getting congratulated for his pass catching, but that is only the beginning of what he does. He is a superb blocker for both running and passing. Tom Brady only got one real pressure all night … huge difference from the last few games without Gronk. And finally, because Gronk has developed such confidence by Brady, that he serves as a sort of pressure relief valve. Brady is always looking for Gronk even if he is not the first or second read. That in turn relieves pressure on Brady .. and you’ll notice that Brady held on to the… Read more »

Reply to  Naplesfan
13 days ago

All very valid points. Gronk’s elite level ability in both pass catching and blocking has been a huge miss for the Bucs. Even a Gronk obviously lacking in match fitness and one suspects playing with slightly less abandon than normal (understandably so), made a huge difference to the offense for all the reasons you stated. Brate has seemingly regressed of late and Howard is almost a non-factor, so the re-emergence of #87 is critical to our post season aspirations. Hopefully soon to be accompanied by a fully rehabilitated AB.

14 days ago

Gronk is clearly an asset that this team needs in the lineup. It gives Brady another reliable target and Gronk and his leadership just seems to add a calming to the Offense. Will need him this Sunday for sure! Glad to have u back Gronk!

14 days ago

Gronk looked like he was protecting himself. not playing with reckless abandon. Still awesome but how is he today? is another hit going to knock him out again or is he about all the way back? would hate to lose him again. We need him in top form for the next 11 games.

Reply to  Buc76
14 days ago

I was thinking the same as to how is he today. Hope no reinjury or new injury, just normal soreness.

Reply to  Buc76
13 days ago

Yes, agreed, I made the same observation. Hard to know if that was partly attributable to a lack of match fitness, that he wasn’t fully extending himself, or whether he was genuinely protecting himself knowing that he was not 100% physically healed. Either way, his contribution was huge and emphasized what we all knew, namely just how much Gronk has been missed by this offense.

13 days ago

The pass that hit Brate in the numbers was deflected at the very last millisecond before it got to him. He had his hands at his waist to receive the ball and all of a sudden it hit him in the chest. To my eyes in HD slo-mo you can clearly see the ball change trajectory. It didn’t bounce off his hands into his chest. He had no chance to catch that ball.

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