- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Denver Broncos reporter
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The Patriots knew it would be about picking the right time for Tom Brady to try to get the ball to Gronkowski and not forcing the issue against the Seahawks' top-end secondary.
"We didn't expect this to be a game we would come in and Gronk dominate the whole game because they don't play much man-to-man coverage," Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. "We were patient, he was patient, he made his plays when he had his opportunities."
Gronkowski finished with six receptions for 68 yards in the Patriots' 28-24 win in Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday night. In his previous 18 games this season, Gronkowski had six games with more catches and 10 games with more receiving yards. With Brady aware of when the Seahawks were going to play man-to-man coverage on the 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end, he found Gronkowski on two of the game's bigger plays for the Patriots.
Just before halftime, with the Patriots on the Seahawks' 22-yard line in a 7-7 game with 36 seconds left in the second quarter, the Patriots lined up in a three-wide receiver set. The Seahawks elected to match up linebacker K.J. Wright on Gronkowski in the open space to the right side of the formation.
It's a matchup that's worked for the Seahawks this season, but Brady identified it and locked in on Gronkowski, who won the battle at the line of scrimmage. Brady lofted a pass that Gronkowski reeled in high over his head as he crossed the goal line, two steps clear of Wright's pursuit.
"I just attacked the defender. It was a go route, just gave him a little move, Tom threw a nice ball, it was a nice play," Gronkowski said.
With 4 minutes, 47 seconds to play and the Patriots trailing 24-21, Brady again saw a matchup he liked. He hit Gronkowski for a 20-yard catch-and-run on second-and-11 with Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor, who was wearing a brace on his injured left knee, in tow.
The play moved the ball to the Seahawks' 32-yard line. Two plays later, Brady found Gronkowski again for a 13-yard gain, and the Patriots took a 28-24 lead four plays later.
"A lot of times there's not a lot of space, [but] they were conscious of Gronk," McDaniels said. "He made a couple of huge plays, the huge play on the crossing route there in the fourth quarter to really get us down there in their end. It's a zone team and they played a lot more zone than man tonight and when they played man, Gronk had a big night on some of those plays. You have to make them cover somebody and displace somehow, in the zone coverages, and bring somebody else into that spot where somebody left."
"It's just go out there and do what we gotta do," Gronkowski said, when asked he if he needed to be more patient in the game. "It was awesome."
Super Bowl XLIX was the final piece in Gronkowski's recovery from a torn right ACL and MCL he suffered against the Cleveland Browns on Dec. 8, 2013.
Gronkowski did not play in any of the Patriots' preseason games. However, he did not miss a game in the regular season or in New England's postseason run that ended with the team's fourth Super Bowl title. It is their first title since Gronkowski was the team's second-round pick in the 2010 draft.
"My whole goal, my whole mission when I went down was to get back to this point, to get back to where I need to be to help the team and get back to the Super Bowl," Gronkowski said. "I just worked my tail off all year long to be where we are now. Just to come out healthy, come out of the Super Bowl healthy. This is awesome."
When the Patriots plotted their gameplan against Seattle, it was clear that Rob Gronkowski's night was going to be more about quality than quantity.