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Gronkowski reaching elite status with awe-inspiring plays, historic statistics

by | CBSSports.com National NFL Insider

Why is Rob Gronkowski getting so much love? Because not many tight ends can do this. (US Presswire)  
Why is Rob Gronkowski getting so much love? Because not many tight ends can do this. (US Presswire)  

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Gronkowski Flip happened in the third quarter of the Patriots' blowout victory. It came after yet another ridiculous, regronkulous Rob Gronkowski play, the kind of play that had made him the best tight end in football.

The moment was typical Gronkowski. He turns an average play into a spectacular one, a sliver of a lane into a highway, a catch into a breakaway.

This time, Gronkowski made a short grab near the right sideline and when one of the Kansas City players attempted to tackle him, the defender just bounced away, and off Gronkowski went.

Gronkowski kept running, and when he got to the goal line, he jumped high in an attempt to dive over linebacker Derrick Johnson, but Johnson's helmet caught the inside of Gronkowski's left knee, and the tight end flipped fully over, landing on the back of his neck, his head contorting scarily, and grotesquely. When Gronkowski got up, he stumbled, clearly woozy, and then spiked the football.

"I do feel better but I wouldn't say I feel great," Gronkowski told me after the game. "But I'll be fine."

That was Gronkowski's second score of the night. The other was a 52-yard touchdown. This is what you call an embarrassment of riches. It was on full display in the 34-3 annihilation of the hapless Chiefs. Full display.

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Look at what Bill Belichick did in this game. He gave wide receiver Julian Edelman snaps on defense. That means since high school, Edelman has played quarterback, punt returner, kick returner, wide receiver and defensive back. The only things missing are assistant coach and owner. Against the Chiefs, Edelman returned a punt 72 yards for a score.

A defense that was supposed to be putrid is firming up, Belichick is investing in his bench, and Gronkowski is destroying everyone. You get the feeling Belichick is prepping for one of his classic Patriots runs.

In a league where there is only one great team -- it resides in Green Bay -- and a bunch of others scramble for the right to lose to it in the playoffs, it could easily be argued that New England is beginning to make a move into the top two or three -- if it's not already there.

The Patriots are beginning to peak at just the right time. They will be helped by a schedule full of cupcakes and sugarplums.

If one of those softies does prove annoying, the Patriots have Gronkowski. Few teams have stopped the Gronkster. He has reached 20 touchdowns in 26 career games -- the fastest a tight end has ever reached 20 scores in league history. The next closest was Mike Ditka, who is, you know, in the Hall of Fame.

He's got 10 touchdowns this season, which is only three shy of the single-season record for a tight end set by Antonio Gates and Vernon Davis. Since 2010, he has 20 total scores, the most among all NFL tight ends in that period. And let's put it this way: Those 20 scores since 2010 put him behind only Calvin Johnson (23) and ahead of Dwayne Bowe and Greg Jennings.

It doesn't get much better than that at all.

"He really does everything you ask a tight end to do," Tom Brady said.

Gronkowski doesn't seem like he's running particularly fast, but he is. He doesn't look to be especially agile, but he is extremely so. Remarkably, he is always wide freaking open, which is stunning for a player everyone in the stadium knows is going to get the football.

We're witnessing some sort of out-of-nowhere metamorphosis of a player with a funny last name into a special player with unforgettable talent. It's difficult to argue there is no better tight end in football playing right now and because he's supplied with a steady diet of Brady accuracy, it will continue to be the Gronkowski show.

As long as he's healthy, that is. The only thing that can slow Gronkowski is injuries. It's difficult to imagine he can take some of the shots he does without drastic repercussions.

So far? Nothing has slowed him. The way he's going, nothing will.


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