It’s never good when you hear your opponent talking about looking forward to coming into your city, into your stadium, and having a good time. But that is how the New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski is treating Sunday’s game at Heinz Field against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
And why shouldn’t he? He’s put up stellar numbers whenever he has faced the Steelers in the past, whether that has been in New England or in Pittsburgh, so he might as well take the opportunity to enjoy it.
Speaking to the media in advance of the game, he said of the city, “it’s always poppin’. It’s a football atmosphere, it’s a football town”. He talked about how the city is all about the Steelers when a game is looming and expressed appreciation for the fans’ passion for their team.
“It’s gonna be a lot of fun to play in, like it always is”, he added. The Steelers are hoping to make it less fun, and they likely will try to take a variety of approaches in covering him. He has 40 receptions for 664 yards and eight touchdowns in the six games he has played against Pittsburgh.
Gronkowski has only had fewer than 93 yards in a game against the Steelers once, and that was back in his rookie season of 2010. He caught three touchdown passes in that game, however, on five receptions for 72 yards. He has at least one touchdown in four of his six games against the Steelers.
While he did not catch a touchdown pass in his last game in Pittsburgh a year ago, he did catch nine passes for 168 yards. He has never averaged below 10 yards per target in any game against the Steelers so far.
The Patriots, however, are coming off of a loss, and one in which Gronkowski actually played an unusual part. Holding a five-point lead over the Miami Dolphins, the tight end was lined up deep to defend against a Hail Mary, but after Kenyan Drake found an opening following a series of laterals, he took a poor angle in trying to tackle him and allowed the game-winning score.
So New England is coming into this game with just a tad bit of humility, even if they have largely had their way with the Steelers in the current era under Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Gronkowski expressed those thoughts as well.
“Just playing ball. Just going out and just doing what we’ve got to do”, he said about his and the team’s focus this week. “Preparing throughout the week and going out and executing. Just executing plays, and that’s what we’ve got to keep on doing. We’ve had a good practice week this week”.
Pittsburgh had better hope that they have a good week of practice as well, and that that translates out on the field in a couple days.