Jordan RaananESPN Staff Writer
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It’s playoff time and tight end Rob Gronkowski said there is “no room for excuses” come Sunday when the New England Patriots host the Los Angeles Chargers in an AFC divisional round game.
Gronkowski has been banged up all year dealing with ankle and back injuries. His numbers reflect that. He tied a career-low with three touchdown receptions in 13 games and finished with a pedestrian 47 catches for 682 yards. It wasn’t up to his usual, healthy, standards.
The bye week for the second-seeded Patriots (11-5) was welcomed. Gronkowski used it to relax, watch football, study and get “refreshed” for perhaps one final run at a Super Bowl, injuries and all.
“It’s the game of football, there are no room for excuses,” Gronkowski said. “Everyone is dealing with something. You just have to keep on moving forward, you have to find a way. That is what makes this game great. You have to be mentally and physically prepared at all times to keep on going.”
Is he there right now, feeling well?
“Yeah, going into the playoff, just had a bye week, practice is going well,” he said. “I’m doing what the coaches are asking me to do. So, just getting ready for a game Sunday.”
Gronkowski, 29, faces a difficult matchup. Chargers rookie safety Derwin James has allowed tight ends to catch just 42 percent of their targets when he’s the nearest defender, the lowest catch percentage allowed to tight ends, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
Gronkowski had just four receptions over the final three weeks of the season. He was shut out by the Buffalo Bills, and has topped three catches just once in his last eight games.
It’s not something his Patriots teammates seem concerned about heading into the playoffs. Veteran safety Devin McCourty has seen players turn it up a notch come the postseason. He wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the old Gronkowski reemerged Sunday against the Chargers.
“Not at all,” he said. “We see him running doing everything at practice. The guy is that good of a player. As hard as it is to make it through 16 games it’s totally different when you’re sitting here preparing, you have one game. You don’t know if there is a next week. You’ve got one game, throw everything out there and see what you get.
“I think he’s that type of competitor that we don’t worry about that. Nobody in this locker room is worried about whether ‘Is he going to be ready to go?'”
There have been questions throughout this season about Gronkowski’s future, sparked by his remarks after Super Bowl 52 that he would consider his football future. This season has done nothing to ease the speculation.
Similar to last week, Gronkowski deflected a question Thurdsay about retirement.
“My mindset … all focus on the Chargers,” he said.
Not his future. At least not now with the playoffs finally here.
“It’s a one-game season,” Gronkowski said. “You have to put it all on the line, no matter what. No matter what you got, whatever you’re dealing with, you have to put it all on the line. If you lose the game, you’re going home. So, I would just say, everybody leave it all out there.”