The day that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady finally decides to call it a career at some point in the 2040s will be a thing of beauty. But for now, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and particularly their secondary, can rejoice in the news that came out yesterday from Foxboro: Rob Gronkowski, easily one of the greatest tight ends to ever play the position and in a class of his own in this era, is retiring at the age of 29.
While it’s true that the perennial All-Pro has dominated virtually everybody at some point over the course of his nine-year career, he often seemed to save special performances from the times that he had an opportunity to face the Steelers.
Gronkowski faced the Steelers seven times over the course of his career, recording 41 receptions on 52 targets for 685 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 12.69 (of course) yards per target and 16.71 yards per reception.
For his career, including the postseason, he caught 602 of 924 targets for 9024 yards and 91 touchdowns, averaging 15 yards per reception and 9.8 yards per target. Just truly ridiculous numbers in 131 games played. He should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer even if he ‘only’ played nine seasons.
Just ask William Gay, Robert Golden, and Sean Davis, arguably the three Steelers who got it worst from ‘Gronk’ over the years, helping lead him to some of the biggest games of his career, and helping the Patriots, of course, to win.
It started during his rookie season in 2010. That year, Gay drew him in coverage a lot as the slot defender between Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden. He caught five of five targets in that game for 72 yards, but three of them—all on Gay—went for touchdowns.
By 2015, the Steelers were expanding their usage of the dime defense, a role that Golden was serving in. When the two teams met up in the regular season opener that year, Gronkowski recorded five receptions for 94 yards and another three touchdowns. Golden was responsible for most of this damage.
It was Davis’ turn in 2017, though he wasn’t the only one, Mike Hilton and Artie Burns also drawing him in coverage. Gronkowski caught nine of 13 passes in that game for 168 yards. Though he didn’t come away with a touchdown, he made the critical plays in the game, including on the game-winning drive, among them a touchdown-springing block.
The dominant tight end was not quite his usual self in 2018, however, and that helped contribute to the Steelers finally beating the Patriots a year ago. Gronkowski was targeted five times in the game and caught just two passes for 21 yards. It was the first time he averaged fewer than 10.44 yards per target against the Steelers at just 4.2 yards.