ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- His parents were in the crowd. So were two of his brothers; the other two, also tight ends in the NFL, had good reason to miss his homecoming. Childhood friends cheered him on.
That made what Rob Gronkowski accomplished in the Patriots' 34-3 win over the Bills -- hauling in two touchdown catches -- all the more special.
"It's a dream come true," he said. "I never would have thought this was going to happen; it's amazing."
Gronkowski now has nine touchdown receptions on the season, tying the Patriots' record for a tight end, set by Ben Coates in 1996.
While Gronkowski was all smiles after the game, the day didn't start as he'd hoped. On the Patriots' first play, he broke free across the middle of the field and was wide open, yet the pass fell incomplete, quarterback Tom Brady's throw coming up a bit short.
"We just didn't complete it. We didn't execute it well," Gronkowski explained. "We just had to put that play in the past, which we did."
"There was a chance for a big play, we just couldn't finish it," head coach Bill Belichick said.
That was the only downer of the weekend for Gronkowski. A native of nearby Amherst, N.Y., Gronkowski spent time with his family and celebrated Christmas.
"It was a real good moment," Gronkowski said. "We exchanged presents, and it was fun."
The leader of Gronkowski's extended "family" with the Patriots, veteran tight end Alge Crumpler, praised what he's seen from the second-round draft choice.
"We look back on film from earlier in the season and we kind of laugh about some of the mistakes we made," Crumpler said. "He's made a drastic improvement. I can't say enough good things about him."
"To see Rob and what he's accomplished, it's so impressive because it's so hard," Brady said in his postgame remarks. "It's so hard to understand what it takes to be successful at this level."
In the second quarter, Gronkowski continued to demonstrate his progress when he hauled in an 8-yard touchdown pass from Brady, tacking on to a growing Patriots lead.
The exuberant tight end then landed an emphatic spike of the football, but only after spinning around, seemingly scanning the sea of fans for the familiar faces of his family.
"I don't even know [where they were], because I told them to get their own tickets," Gronkowski said. "But I know my family was there and a lot of my friends."
Later in the game, Gronkowski's family had more reason to cheer when he made another 8-yard touchdown grab.
The two touchdowns may land Gronkowski another NFL Rookie of the Week award, but what exactly did the 21-year-old Gronkowski get for his first Christmas as an NFL tight end?
"Boxers and socks," Gronkowski said, with a smile. "That was my present that I asked from my mother."
Without a doubt, Gronkowski's mother got quite the Christmas present of her own.