ATLANTA -- If Super Bowl LIII was Rob Gronkowski’s final NFL game, the Western New York native went out in style Sunday night.
A surprisingly dull, defensive-driven contest finally saw its breakthrough moment with just under eight minutes left when the Western New York native caught a 29-yard pass from Tom Brady -- the game’s longest -- to set up the only touchdown in the New England Patriots’ 13-3 victory against the Los Angeles Rams.
The drive began with Brady connecting with Gronkowski for 18 yards to put the Patriots at midfield. Three plays later, on second-and-three from the Rams’ 31, Brady found Gronk again for the 29-yarder to the 2, from where Sony Michel ran through the middle into the end zone to make it 10-3.
The win was the Patriots’ sixth in the Super Bowl and reinforced the Bill Belichick-Brady Dynasty that doesn’t appear to be ending any time soon.
The question is, if it does continue, will it do so with Gronkowski, easily the best tight end to ever play the game.”
All week, the speculation lingered. Would the Super Bowl be Gronkowski’s final NFL game? He didn't seem right physically, with labored movement. It was part of a general theme throughout the season that the Patriots were on the decline.
Gronk estimated he heard the question roughly 50 times. Each time, he refused to provide a definitive answer, which only kept the speculating alive.
After the game, Gronkowski said he would make a decision on his playing future “in a week or two,” adding that the postgame was “about celebrating with my teammates.”
How his Super Bowl performance will factor into the discussion is anyone’s guess. In a game when big plays were exceptionally hard to make, he was the Patriots’ second-leading receiver with six catches for 87 yards. Julian Edelman led the way for both teams with 10 catches for 141 yards.
But for the most part, this game wasn’t about offensive play-making.
It was about offenses being stifled.
Hopefully, you enjoyed the commercials, because when it came to football action, Super Bowl LIII didn’t offer much.
Unless, of course, you like watching defenses smother mostly inept offenses. Oh, and if seeing punts gets you fired up, because this game had 14 of them -- including one by the Rams that traveled 65 yards, 27 on a roll, to become the longest in Super Bowl history.
With the Patriots holding a 3-0 halftime lead, Super Bowl LIII held the dubious distinction of being the second-lowest-scoring Super Bowl in NFL history. The lowest-scoring first half was IX, when the Pittsburgh Steelers held a 2-0 lead on the way to a 16-6 victory against the Minnesota Vikings. The combined six points were the fewest through three quarters since IX, when the Steelers were up, 9-0.
That was in the mid-70s, when offenses were supposedly less explosive than most of what we see in the league today.
But we certainly didn’t see it Sunday night, even though Brady and Jared Goff are the leaders of prolific offenses.
The Patriots skunked the Rams’ offense by playing primarily zone coverage and mixing actual pressure with simulated pressure. The Rams skunked the Patriots’ offense with a mixture of zone and man-to-man coverage.
Brady also seemed off-target. He set the tone for the game when his first pass, intended for Chris Hogan, was deflected by Nickell Robey-Coleman and intercepted by linebacker Cory Littleton.
For most of the first three quarters, the widely held belief before the game that the Patriots would be able to have a great deal of success running against a Rams defense that struggled in that area proved false. The Patriots finally were able to spring Sony Michel free for a 19-yard gain late in the third quarter.
However, little of what happened Sunday night followed script.
When it comes to Gronkowski’s NFL career, the question will be asked again: Is this the end?