Rob Gronkowski's enthusiasm, production on the upswing

KANSAS CITY -- The joy that New England Patriots teammates had for Rob Gronkowski in the aftermath of Sunday’s scintillating 37-31 overtime victory over the Kansas City Chiefs was hard to miss.

Shortly after Gronkowski finished answering questions from reporters, he walked into a big embrace from quarterback Tom Brady. Soon after that, receiver Julian Edelman went out of his way to note Gronkowski’s critical contributions -- a 25-yard catch on a fade with safety Eric Berry in coverage to set up a late fourth-quarter touchdown, and then a 15-yard catch on third-and-10 on the game-winning drive of overtime.

Brady and Edelman know how much Gronkowski has endured this season, fighting through ankle and back injuries at one point in what he once described as a challenging season.

“I’m so proud of Gronk, going out there making crazy plays,” Edelman said. “It was awesome to see the big fella go out and do that.”

Gronkowski will do it at least one more time, in Super Bowl LIII against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, Feb. 3. Whether he plays beyond that will be one of the hot-button stories of the offseason, as he is under contract for 2019 but had considered retirement after last year’s Super Bowl.

As Sunday showed, if Gronkowski does step away from football, it isn’t because he no longer has something productive to offer. Playing all 97 snaps, he had six catches for 79 yards against the Chiefs, and continued to be effective as a blocker.

“He was playing his butt off. He has done that all year,” Brady said. “He is out there, and whatever we ask him to do, he does with an enthusiasm about him. He is an incredible teammate and person. The kind of guy he is -- I know everybody doesn’t know him personally -- but he is just a great man. Just so happy to have been able to play with him for as long as we have.”

Gronkowski told ESPN’s Jeff Darlington that Sunday was “the biggest team win I’ve probably been part of," pointing out that he had never won a road playoff game in his career.

Then he walked out of Arrowhead Stadium with Brady, filming a playful video in which both just looked at the camera and didn’t say anything. It might have been a message that they both continue to silence some doubters.

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Before that, Gronkowski had said, “The way the guys have been fighting all year, I couldn’t be more proud to be out here with the boys. It was one of my sweeter victories, definitely, in my career.”

Part of what made it so was the ball coming his way in critical situations.

“When it comes to those situations, you can put that ball up, I’ve got to go and make the play,” he said. “It’s crunch time. You make the play or you’re done. You’re out of the playoffs. It’s the trust we have in each other. We love playing with each other, just the bond we have.”