Patriots vs. Texans: Three Week 14 Stars of the Game

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Star Number Three: TE Rob Gronkowski

Dec 13, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) catches a touchdown pass past Houston Texans strong safety Quintin Demps (27) during the second quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

After missing only one week with his knee injury, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski came back in a big way on Sunday night. Gronk caught all four passes thrown his way against the Texans for a game-leading 87 yards.

The Patriots did hold Gronkowski back a bit in his return to action, but he still played in 42 of the Patriots’ 69 offensive snaps, according to Mike Reiss of The Patriots did not give Gronkowski a full load in his first game back, but he looked perfectly capable of handling it if they needed him to.

He made an immediate impact in the passing game, making his first catch in the first quarter on the Patriots’ second drive. After rolling out to the right, Brady was able to find a wide-open Gronkowski across the field for a huge 45-yard completion to open the drive. That play quickly led to the Patriots’ first score of the game, giving them a 7-0 lead.

Late in the first half, Gronkowski made another big play, bringing in a one-yard touchdown reception right before the teams went into halftime. The Patriots motioned Gronkowski out-wide and he man-handled Texans’ safety Quintin Demps on a fade route. That touchdown was the perfect example of Gronk being the biggest match-up nightmare in the NFL. Simply undependable in those situations.

Brady was able to find Gronkowski one time in the second half, this time deep over the middle of the field. Gronk showed off his run after catch ability on the play, racing down field for 35 yards. He was able to reach his top speed on the play, showing no issues from the knee injury.

Gronkowski was not only the Patriots’ leading receiver in his return, but his presence on the field opened things up for everyone else. Simply being out there forces the defense to key on Gronkowski. He is a physical freak who demands a ton of attention. Whether he sees the ball or not does not matter, because Gronk will always open up opportunities for others as well.

His presence in the passing game is obvious, but do not discount Gronkowski’s work in the Patriots’ rushing attack. Gronk is one of the best run blocking tight ends in the NFL, and his blocking immediately makes the running game more effective. The Patriots ran a lot of misdirection running plays at the Texans on Sunday night. Gronkowski was among those featured as a lead blocker.

Simply put, Gronkowski is one of the best players in the NFL, and his presence on the field is ultra-important to the Patriots’ offense. He showed his wide-ranging ability on Sunday, giving the Patriots what they needed to win the game.

Next: A Shut-Down Performance