The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are coming off of a thrilling, 38-31 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. It took a 24-7 run in the second half along with four touchdowns from Leonard Fournette for Tampa to end Indy's three-game win streak, but the Bucs couldn't have found the win column without star tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Gronk led the Bucs with seven catches for a season-high 123 yards Sunday. The future Pro Football Hall of Famer has missed five games this season due to a couple different injuries, but he was amped up after one of Tampa's biggest wins of the season.
"We just came out firing in the second half," Gronkowski told CBS Sports of Sunday's win. "The first half, a little 'duddish.' A little slow, the energy wasn't really there. Just came out in the second half firing on all cylinders. Offensive side of the ball, defensive side of the ball and we just did what we had to do in the second half in order to pull out a win on the road in that atmosphere. It was a great win, it was a playoff win -- a playoff atmosphere. That was big, to bring it together in the second half and get that W."
Gronk is in his second season with the Buccaneers, and the 2021 campaign has been much kinder to him in terms of on-field success than the 2020 campaign was. He's averaging 63 yards receiving per game compared to 38.9 from last year, and he has four touchdowns in just six games played. Gronkowski said he feels more acclimated in Bruce Arians' scheme -- and it's showing.
"The biggest difference is just feeling comfortable," said Gronkowski. "Just knowing the playbook, knowing how everything works, knowing all my teammates. You just got a lot better feel than just stepping right in last year and getting to meet everyone, learning the playbook during training camp. So it just feels so much more comfortable this year with overall everything."
Even though he and Tom Brady underwent their first-ever change of scenery last season, it didn't affect the success they had become accustomed to. Tampa won seven straight games to get to Super Bowl LV, and won the Super Bowl in their home stadium. Gronk caught two touchdowns in what was his fourth Super Bowl win.
It says something that Gronk and Brady could pack up, leave the New England Patriots (or come out of retirement) and win a Super Bowl in their first season with their new team. Gronk said his Super Bowl run in Tampa was very different from the others he had in New England. Naturally, the COVID-19 pandemic affected things in a big way, but it was also different with how the playoffs shook out.
"Two totally different experiences, two totally different teams," Gronkowski said, comparing his Super Bowl success in Tampa vs. New England. "Just the way that last year went down with COVID and everything, that was totally different. All my Super Bowls with New England, let me tell you, we went through the whole nine yards of going through those Super Bowl experiences with media day, all the fans all over the place, every event you go to was just epic, wild. And then this year with COVID, it was a home game. We won all three (playoff) games on the road, I've never done that; usually all my playoff games are at home, so we won them all on the road and then had the Super Bowl at home -- which was just epic. To win three playoff games on the road and then have the Super Bowl at home? Epic."
Speaking of epic, Gronkowski told CBS Sports he will be sporting some epic cleats when the Buccaneers take on the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday. Gronk has teamed up with USAA, the Official NFL Salute to Service Partner, to honor the USO and the Gronk Nation Youth Foundation on his cleats for this year's NFL My Cause My Cleats campaign.
Additionally, Gronk recently surprised Master Sergeant Jasen and his family at Raymond James Stadium when they were told they were taking a special tour. The Pro Bowl tight end decided to put their family on his cleats to honor Master Sergeant Jasen and his loved ones for the sacrifices they have made. The cleats were designed by Marcus Rivero, who is better known as Soles by Sir.
Sacrifice & Service is what these cleats represent. It’s a privilege to honor @the_USO and the Jasen family. Thanks to @USAA for helping me honor service members & The USO for keeping America’s service members connected to family, home,& country. #MyCauseMyCleats #SaluteToService pic.twitter.com/fbvz8BUt6S— Rob Gronkowski (@RobGronkowski) November 30, 2021
"Just to put a smile on a military member's face is always a great thing to do," said Gronkowski. "All the sacrifice the military members do for ourselves in order for us to be free here in this country, and then also all the sacrifice from their families -- it's just second to none."
The Buccaneers will look to sweep the season series against the Falcons this Sunday while Gronk is wearing his special cleats. A win would be Tampa's third straight and put pressure on the Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers -- who are the two teams ahead of the Bucs in the NFC playoff picture. Tampa currently has the best Super Bowl odds, according to Caesars Sportsbook, and the Bucs certainly look like a prime candidate to repeat. Gronkowski said what makes his team special is that they have ballers who know how to play together.
"We just want to play complimentary football," said Gronkowski. "When we play together as a team, I think it makes our team special. Of course we got a lot of ballers, no doubt about that on the defensive side of the ball, on the offensive side of the ball, but when we play together as a team and when we play for each other, that's definitely what makes our team special."