ATLANTA — Go ahead, believe Rob Gronkowski is slowing down if you want.
But coming off one of the least productive seasons of his nine-year career, there he was in the clutch, making the longest play of scrimmage in Super Bowl LIII while setting up the only touchdown in the New England Patriots’ 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
Then, after a week of outrunning the incessant retirement question, Gronk evaded it one more time Sunday night.
“Tonight it’s about celebrating with my teammates. And that decision will be made in a week or two,” said Gronkowski, who, true to form, was looking forward to his next off-field throwdown.
“We’re gonna have a good time. Bill (Belichick) told me he’s partying tonight, so you know it’s gonna be good.”
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Arguably, no one’s ever been as good a tight end as No. 87. His 79 regular-season TD grabs trail only Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez at the position, and both those players’ careers spanned nearly twice as long as Gronk’s.
Sunday, Gronkowski caught six passes, giving him 23 in the Super Bowl — a record among tight ends as are his 297 receiving yards after he added 87 more against the Rams.
“He played his tail off,” remarked Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater. “Not bad for a guy who’s washed up, right?”
But it was Gronk’s final reception, a diving, 29-yard snatch of Tom Brady’s pass halfway through the final quarter down to the Rams’ 2-yard line with the game tied 3-3, that was arguably the contest’s pivotal play. Sony Michel barreled into the end zone on the next snap to provide what would be an insurmountable lead.
“When it comes to crunch time,” said Gronkowski with a grin, “I always find a way.”
Thursday, he said he was “51 percent” about where his future was headed following his fourth Super Bowl appearance. In typical Gronk fashion, he just wouldn’t say which way he was leaning.
However if he does decide to call it quits after nine bruising NFL seasons and countless surgeries to his battered body, Gronkowski certainly sounded like a man who could walk away gratified.
“I’ll tell you this, this was the most satisfying year I’ve ever been a part of,” he said of a season that saw him miss three games due to injury while catching a career-low three TDs. “How we came together, the obstacles we had to overcome, the grind — from the beginning of training camp to now — was just surreal.
“It was life, we went through life this year. We stuck together, and that’s what it’s all about in life, sticking together.
“We just kept grinding. We kept sticking together, we stuck together as a family when we’re up, and we stuck together when we were down — and that’s the most crucial part, we stuck together on the downers. And we stuck together and came through and came out with this win.”
Apparently he also came out of it a bit more banged up, too, taking a shot to his quad in the first half.
“Probably won’t be able to walk that good tomorrow, but it’s all good,” said Gronk, “we’re Super Bowl champs.”
And that’s where his focus will lie … at least for a few more weeks.
“You relish these moments, you relish them all. You know how hard it is to get to the Super Bowl,” said Gronkowski.
“It’s just awesome to be a part of this organization. Proud to be part of this team.”
For however much longer that might be.
Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis