Josh McDaniels: Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski shows ‘tremendous courage' on inside routes

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Rob Gronkowski had his best game since September but he paid a physical price for it.

We catalogued the devastating hits Gronk took from Miami safety T.J. McDonald – twice on the right knee/thigh, once in the spine. Gronk also got smashed last week by Minnesota’s Harrison Smith and took a number of whacks from the Jets’ Jamal Adams.

This Twitter wisenheimer thinks it’s business as usual. NFL, baby, everybody gets lit up! Man up!!

The reality is, Rob Gronkowski takes an outlandish amount of punishment in the form of high-speed collisions where he has little time to brace himself. Maybe more than anybody else in the league.

And while we sometimes eyeroll about his availability or speculate about his long-term commitment because of the physical toll taken, it was important to hear Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels put Gronk’s physical sacrifice in perspective on Tuesday.

“There’s no question that he’s an extremely tough guy,” said McDaniels. “I think we have a lot of those guys on our team and Gronk is certainly one of the tougher ones in the league at that position.

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“Because of his size and where he catches the football which is between the numbers, there’s a lot of bodies that eventually come downhill towards him and make a decision how to tackle him,” McDaniels continued. “Most of those people usually go low. They could choose to do some other thing but they usually choose to go low because of how big he is and the concept of trying to tackle him high generally isn’t high on everyone’s wish list.”

Gronk got his knee wrecked in 2013 by Cleveland’s T.J. Ward on a low hit flush to the inner part of his leg. Maybe it was just perception on my behalf, but after that it seemed a lot of defenders did him a solid by trying to avoid going low. For a time.

The next big hit to the leg came in Week 11 of 2015 when Gronk was drilled low in a game at Denver and was carted off the field. It was scary. Gronk’s reaction was extreme. But in the end, the injury was just a bruise.

Gronk’s writhing on the field made everyone watching fear the worst: another ruined knee. Maybe he too feared the worst because he’d already experienced it. And the reaction perhaps showed that he even anticipated it.

Every player in every game reconciles himself somehow to the reality that serious or even catastrophic injury is a potential outcome.

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But most players have a greater level of control than a player like Gronkowski who has to make himself prone to execute his assignment.

“Playing his position at his size, … requires a tremendous amount of courage to go in there and continue to run pass routes inside,” said McDaniels. “You know you’re gonna eventually incur some punishment and hits. Thankfully, they are not to the head and neck area anymore but there’s no doubt that toughness and courage is a huge element of playing inside in our league and in the passing game and having success. Being able to stay focused on the football, finish the play properly, understanding in the back of your mind you know you’re gonna take a hit (is difficult).

“I would say Julian (Edelman) is right up there also,” McDaniels concluded. “They both do a lot of stuff inside and they both have a great understanding of how that works and neither one of them plays the game with fear. I have a tremendous amount of respect and appreciation for all the things they do inside and the toughness they display week in and week out.”

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