The Pittsburgh Steelers have been one of the NFL’s most successful franchises over the last 50 years. No team has won more games than the Steelers since 1970 and along with the New England Patriots, no team has won more Super Bowls than the Steelers. Even with this multitude of success, even Super Man has his kryptonite and the Pittsburgh franchise has also come across some players that have just had their number throughout the years. This series will look at the Steelers’ biggest forms of kryptonite. These are players who have just had the team’s number time and time again.
Next up on the kryptonite series is none other than Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Gronkowski is no stranger to Pittsburgh, in fact he even lived in Pittsburgh during his senior year of high school, attending Woodland Hills. That is what makes Gronkowski’s tale sting even further, for a player who resided in Pittsburgh for a short period of time, the NFL tight end would spend a good portion of his NFL career torturing the city he once called home.
It all started during his rookie year in 2010. Under the lights of primetime Sunday Night Football, the Steelers would host the Patriots and Gronkowski put on a show for the Pittsburgh crowd. Still just 21-years old, the then rookie tight end looked like no rookie as he had his way with the Steelers’ defense. His final line – five receptions for 72 yards and three touchdowns. The Patriots cruised to an easy 39-26 victory off the back of their superhuman tight end.
It would not be the last time that Gronk would beat the city of Pittsburgh into submission.
Over his career, Gronkowski has recorded 41 receptions for 685 yards and eight touchdowns in seven career games vs the Steelers. These are his best numbers against any team that does not reside in the AFC East. Some players simply rise to the occasion against certain teams but let it be known that against the Steelers, Gronkowski in his prime was nearly unstoppable and the Steelers seemingly had no answers for how to stop him.
For those that played NFL Street growing up, you will recall that a certain point a player in the video game were able to channel a power up called Gamebreaker. This made the player nearly un-coverable and unstoppable. That is the only way to describe Gronkowski’s level of play against the Steelers and two years stick out in particular – 2013 and 2017.
November 3rd 2013 – Just like many times before, the Patriots cruised to an easy victory over the Steelers, this time by the score of 55-31. This would also be the game that Gronkowski would catch nine of his 10 targets for 143 yards and a touchdown. He was unstoppable on this day but the worst was yet to come.
Fast forward to December 17 2017.
With stakes for home field advantage at play, the Steelers would host the Patriots at Heinz Field. And with an offense featuring the firepower of the ‘Killer Bs’, many were confident that this would be the time that the Steelers would be able to hit back and defeat the bully known as the New England Patriots.
Unfortunately, Gronkowski had different plans.
The Patriots tight end set career highs for himself in receiving yards with 168 receiving yards on nine receptions. While he did not catch a touchdown, he did not need to as he gashed the Steelers’ defense over the middle of the field while also catching a pivotal two point conversion attempt.
Watching from the crowd, the only way Gronkowski’s performance could be described was heart wrenching. Over 60,000 people filled Heinz Field on this day and everyone in attendance knew what was coming. The ball was going to Gronk. Yet no one in the crowd and certainly no one on the field could stop it. The image of Gronkowski pointing and laughing at Sean Davis is likely burned into the brains of many and this image serves as a fitting description as to how the tight end treated the Steelers throughout the years. It was a torturous affair as the Patriots held on for a controversial victory. As a result, the Steelers lost home field advantage and were eliminated by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the postseason just weeks later.
Gronkowski’s reign of terror does have a relieving end. As he approached his thirties, his body began to slow down from the repercussions of the game. The man who once resembled Hulk was now showing effects of wear and tear. This concluded with a quiet performance against the Steelers in 2018 when he was held to just two receptions for 21 yards in a 17-10 Steelers’ victory.
The Patriots’ tight end then retired for the 2019 season before coming out of retirement earlier this year and moving to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Gronkowski is out of New England. He is out of the AFC and the city of Pittsburgh may finally be able to take a breath of relief.