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Steelers fail to jam Gronk at line of scrimmage, pay the price

FOXBOROUGH, Ma. -- For the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Gronk Show was a three-hour horror movie with no bathroom breaks.

The Steelers on Thursday made a few defensive plays in a 28-21 loss to the Patriots, including two sacks and a forced fumble.

But they had no answer for Rob Gronkowski.

None.

In fact, Gronkowski having his way on the soggy Gillette Stadium field with three touchdowns and 94 yards made the Steelers feel a little helpless.

“Some of those balls, man, other than the touchdown he caught on the sideline, he caught those balls up there (puts hands high in the air),” outside linebacker Jarvis Jones said. “He’s a big guy. Tom Brady put it where it’s hard to get.”

During the week, the Steelers had planned to jam the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Gronkowski at the line of scrimmage. They didn’t follow that plan Thursday night, allowing him to get loose and set an early pace for a 48-touchdown year.

The perfect example is Gronkowski’s final touchdown from the 1-yard line with 9:20 left. Gronkowski flared out wide a few seconds before the play was called, forcing reserve linebacker Terence Garvin to flare out, too. Gronkowski hit him with a stutter-move, and Brady tossed the ball into the rainy New England sky for only Gronkowski to grab it. Gronkowski went untouched on the play.

Gronkowski’s first touchdowns also was too easy, a broken play in which the Steelers had 10 men on the field and Brady hit a streaking Gronkowski by the sideline for a 16-yard score. Head coach Mike Tomlin said the Steelers were switching personnel for a defensive package and didn’t correctly move players around in time.

Otherwise, communication didn’t matter much. Gronkowski was winning matchups regardless. Gronkowski beat outside linebacker Bud Dupree downfield to get loose for a 52-yarder. He split two defenders on a 6-yard touchdown catch toward the back of the end zone.

Tomlin knows his defense on Gronkowski wasn’t good enough, but he won’t elaborate any farther, largely out of respect for Gronkowski’s game.

"He’s a really talented player, a dominate player, particularly in situational ball," Tomlin said. "He delivered big tonight. I don’t want to take anything away from his efforts.”

Even when the Steelers did something right, Gronkowski spoiled it. When safety Mike Mitchell caused a fumble at the goal line, Gronkowski dove on top of the ball at the 1-yard line, setting up his own score on the Garvin play.