Rob Gronkowski is so very good at playing tight end, but the world found out Sunday that he’s so very bad at playing safety.
For some inexplicable reason, the New England Patriots sent Gronkowski out on defense to try to defend the Miami Dolphins’ last chance at winning the game. The play ended with Gronkowski taking a horrible angle and stumbling while Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake ran by him for a miraculous 69-yard touchdown.
It makes sense to have a 6’6, 265-pound pass catcher like Gronk on the field for a jump ball in the end zone. The problem is that there was no shot of that scenario actually happening.
Miami had zero intention to throw a Hail Mary
The Dolphins started the play on their own 31-yard line, so apparently Patriots coaches were worried that Ryan Tannehill was going to uncork a deep ball more than 70 yards down the field.
That’d be a hell of a heave, and maybe Tannehill has the arm strength to actually do it. Maybe. That’s if his surgically repaired shoulder is capable, and the Dolphins offensive line could protect long enough to let receivers run over 60 yards.
It wouldn’t have been a smart call, and the players on the field knew it:
On the last play: Gronk said every time he’s played that last line of defense role in practice it’s been for a Hail Mary, but multiple Patriots defenders said they knew it was too far for anything but laterals.— Nora Princiotti (@NoraPrinciotti) December 9, 2018
So when the Dolphins opted against an ill-advised Hail Mary, it meant Gronkowski’s only role on the field was as a tackler. That’s a job something that most of the players on the roster — and every player on the defense — would be better suited at accomplishing.
Don’t think the Dolphins didn’t notice:
Ryan Tannehill, talking about the last play: “I was like, ‘Gronk’s on the field. We got this.’”— Christopher Price (@cpriceNFL) December 9, 2018
“I knew I couldn’t get caught from behind and Gronk was the only guy in front of me so I had to get in the end zone,” said Kenyan Drake. Frank Gore chips in and says he can’t catch you. Drake agreed, “no he can’t.” #Dolphins #Patriots— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) December 9, 2018
There were many other Patriots players who could’ve made the play, but if it was a safety instead of Gronkowski on the field, things could’ve looked much different.
It’s tough to blame Gronk for the play
Gronkowski was pretty dejected after the game and hard on himself for not making the tackle:
“The way it ended sucked,” Gronkowski said. “I’ve never been a part of anything like that. I feel like it’s going to test our character big-time. I have to make that tackle.”
New England pays Gronkowski to catch touchdowns, not make tackles. He finished the game with eight receptions for 107 yards and a touchdown — his best showing in three months.
It was Patriots coaches who put Gronkowski in the game in the final seconds, and they did it with the intention of him knocking down a jump ball. Gronkowski is an all-time great tight end, but it should surprise no one that he was unable to bring down Drake.
New England hasn’t clinched yet, but is still almost definitely headed to the playoffs. But if the loss Sunday costs the Patriots a first-round bye, the decision to have Gronkowski on the field will loom large.