ATLANTA — Patriots coaches and players started to walk off the field and head to the locker room around 10:30 p.m., about a half-hour after the clock ran out on New England’s 13–3 win over the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII. The team moves the celebration into the locker room, and Tom Brady and freshly crowned MVP Julian Edelman head for their press conferences. But Rob Gronkowski lingers on the confetti-strewn field just a little bit longer, waving to fans, posing for pictures and television interviews and meeting up with his family. It was almost 11 p.m., and the Patriots’ tight end was busy milking the moment for all he could.
As speculation about his retirement this offseason swirls, Gronkowski soaked up the immediate post-game victory celebration for nearly an hour. And while that could be interpreted as a sign of finality, that Super Bowl LIII is his third and final ring, Gronk wouldn’t say for sure. “That decision will be made in a week or two down the future, because tonight, I’m celebrating with my teammates and that's what I am worried about tonight. Bill [Belichick] told me he is partying tonight, so you know it is going to be good.”
While much of the audience would categorize this low-scoring game as the least interesting of the six wins of this Patriots’ dynasty, Gronkowski would disagree. “It was the most satisfying year I ever been a part of,” he said at his podium, still wearing white gloves and his bulky black arm brace.
“We came together, the obstacles we had to overcome, the grind from the beginning of training camp until now is just surreal. It was life. We went through life this year and we stuck together.”
As soon as he says this, Brady walks past on his way out of the interview area. “Tom, you know we stuck together baby!” Gronkowski yells to him. “I love you Tom!”
“Always! Always!” Brady shouts back.
If this is Gronkowski’s last game, it was a game that was a emblematic of his career. He’s earned a reputation of being a reliable target to make a play when the Patriots need it most, and on Sunday night, he made a crucial catch to set up running back Sony Michel’s two-yard touchdown run, the only touchdown of the game for either side. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had called the same play—Edelman works the middle of the field and Gronkowski runs a seam route—twice in a row before the big play where Gronkowski laid out for a 29-yard catch that put New England in the red zone for the first time. “I knew the ball was coming to me,” Gronkowski says. “I saw the coverage and it was the same coverage as the play before when we ran it.”
Early in that drive, Edelman looked at Gronkowski in the huddle and told him, We need another play out of you, Rob. We need a huge play.
“Julian had been making them all game,” Gronkowski says. “It was time to step up. Tom threw that ball where it needed to be and I went and made the play. it was huge.”
Gronkowski finished six of seven for 87 yards, but not without taking a bit of a beating in the process. A couple Rams defenders hit him hard in his right quad while tackling him after a four-yard catch in the second quarter. “I can barely walk right now,” Gronkowski says. “I’ve had these quad shots a few times now, and I probably won't be able to walk that good tomorrow, but it's all good, we’re Super Bowl champs.”
He slowly got dressed in the locker room, using his hands to pull up his stiff right leg in order to slip on his white Nike sneakers. He slowly walked out of the locker room and towards the team bus, noticeably favoring his left leg. A swarm of cameras followed him on his way down the long hallway. He grabbed a chicken boxed dinner from Jim ’N Nick’s Bar-B-Q, and when he reached the end of the hallway, the handler leading him turned to the reporters and fans, put a hand up and said, “OK, that’s enough.”
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NOW ON THE MMQB: Conor Orr recaps the game—it wasn’t what we expected, but there’s still a lot to love about Super Bowl LIII. ... Jonathan Jones trailed Tom Brady after he won his sixth ring. ... Michael Rosenberg explains why this Patriots win seems very familiar. ... Andy Benoit on how Bill Belichick’s master plan unfolded. ... Orr on how the Patriots’ defense rallied after Patrick Chung’s injury. ... Klemko on how Jared Goff and the Rams dropped the ball on their best chance at a lead. ... and more.
WHAT YOU MAY HAVE MISSED: Albert Breer spoke to Robert Kraft ahead of the Super Bowl LIII win. ... Jenny Vrentas with the final installment of our series on the arc of a Patriots season. ... Orr on the wild story behind the Patriots’ float sleep tanks.
1. Elias Sports Bureau collected stats about records broken or tied in Super Bowl LIII (and there are a lot).
2. Brady’s latest goofy instagram video celebrating the win is out.
3. Speaking of Brady’s social media, his Super Bowl hype video, posted on Sunday morning, is a mashup of every weird sports cliche in weirdly contructed sentences. Here’s the full narration, in you case you care to read it or need some inspiration.
“The bonds between us, the belief in something larger than yourself, makes a city, a team, a dream, grow. It’s never about one person, one play, one game. Win or lose, we do it together. When you put on your uniform you carry much more than the name on your back and the name on your front. You play for each other, for those who came before you and those who come after. When you put on your uniform you carry the heartbeat of a city, a team, a dream that will live forever. LET'S GO!"
4. NFL Network's Mike Giardi reported that the Patriots think Gronk's devotion to the TB12 method is why he had lingering injuries this season.
5. As expected, Maroon 5 was an extremely bland halftime show.
6. After the game, Brady earned a shoutout from another goat.
7. On Thursday, I asked several Patriots players if they would visit the White House if the Patriots won the Super Bowl. All said they hadn’t thought about it yet except for safety Duron Harmon, who did not attend the Patriots’ visit to the Trump White House after Super Bowl LI. He told me, “I probably won’t go. I'm not going. I did not go last time. We all know why. I just feel like, for what he believes and what he says, it doesn’t sit well with me, so there’s no point in going there. It would be fake to shake his hand.”
Earlier this season, Bill Belichick put a loss into context by saying, "Nobody died." And now we've swung in the opposite direction, with Rams veteran Andrew Whitworth taking this loss as a time to confront his own mortality.
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