The return of New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski from a broken forearm coincided with a day that the team put together a balanced effort in shutting out the Miami Dolphins 28-0 to close the regular season.
The third-year player finished with two catches in his return, one for a touchdown, in playing 24 of the team’s 80 snaps. He was targeted four times.
"He's always just a mismatch," Brady said Monday morning in his weekly interview on Boston sports radio station WEEI. "He's got really great speed, he tracks the ball really well in the air, he's got great hands, he's very tough, he's very quick getting out of his breaks. He does everything well, when he's out there it's a tough mismatch for the defense. And he's got a really unique skill set, and that's why he’s been so productive since the day he got here, so it was great to see."
On Gronkowski's 23-yard fourth-quarter score, he was virtually uncovered down the seam, a play the Patriots have previously run with great success. Brady said Gronkowski's presence affects the downfield passing game.
"He's one of the best in the game right now," he said. "When he's out there it makes a big difference. He had two pretty important catches yesterday, and those explosive plays in the passing game and his ability to stretch the defense down the field is important."
He also noted how defenses are forced to converge toward the middle of the field to close in on Gronkowski, which opens up space for other receivers to operate.
"Yeah that's part of it," Brady said. "The more attention a defense pays to one player, the less there is to the other guys. In some ways, it's like basketball. You've always got a certain amount of guys, and if you want to try and stop one guy and pay extra attention to one guy, there's less for everybody else and that's what we do in football too.
"And defenses do pay attention a lot to Wes (Welker) and to Gronk and that gives Aaron (Hernandez) opportunities, our running game opportunities, that gives Brandon Lloyd opportunities and Deion Branch opportunities, and those guys made some important plays yesterday too," he continued. "I think that's the important thing, is to be able to distribute the ball around so that when you need it the most, everybody is a viable player and a viable receiver."
Brady, Gronkowski and the rest of the Patriots now have a week off with a first-round bye in the playoffs. They'll next take the field against one of three potential opponents, but before that team is decided, Brady said it's critical his team takes time to focus on self-improvement.
"This week is going to be about us getting better," he said. "We don't know our opponent yet, so as we go into the week, there's no one to really focus on. But who we can focus on and who is really an important team to focus on is ourselves. To understand why we've won certain games (and) why we've lost certain games is going to be critical to our success here in a couple of weeks."