- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 11, 2011

Rob Gronkowski is more than a mismatch.

There are the New England Patriots tight end’s Velcro-like hands. The agility of a dancer. And the second-year player stands 6-foot-6, would-be tacklers bouncing off his 265 pounds like Pop Warner players trying to bring down an elephant.

“The guy’s a gargoyle,” Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson said.

As the Patriots beat the Redskins 34-27 at FedEx Field on Sunday, Gronkowski tore up the team’s usually-solid defense in a swirl of tackle-breaking, highlight-making catches and runs that left a locker room filled with shaking heads.

Gronkowski caught six passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns as he broke the NFL’s single-season touchdown record for tight ends.

“I even held him,” disbelieving linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said, “and he somehow broke away.”

Kerrigan didn’t have answers, left instead with the memory of Gronkowski rampaging around the field’s chewed-up turf.

There was Kerrigan’s nightmare early in the third quarter. Facing third-and-12, quarterback Tom Brady found Gronkowski down the middle of the field in the face of a zero blitz. That meant the receivers had one-on-one coverage.

Kerrigan tried to hold Gronkowski. That only drew a flag. Tackling didn’t work, either. Kerrigan is 6-foot-4 but looked out of place next to Gronkowski.

A few seconds later, the tight end was celebrating his 37-yard touchdown in the end zone.

“He’s what you think of when you want a tight end,” Kerrigan said. “It was a horrible play on my part. … It’s not acceptable. I’ve got to wrap him up and hold on. It doesn’t matter if it’s frigging Rob Gronkowski.”

Kerrigan’s missed tackle was part of an afternoon-long problem for the Redskins‘ defense. If defenders don’t wrap up and don’t hold on, a tight end doesn’t need Gronkowski’s physical gifts to run up video game-like numbers.

Still, Brady took advantage of Gronkowski’s size, often lobbing the ball so high only the tight end could catch it.

“He’s going to make plays, but we’ve got to make some plays, too,” safety Reed Doughty said. “You can’t just say, ‘Oh, he’s a big guy, he’s going to make plays.’ You’ve got to challenge him.”

That didn’t happen much, particularly early in the game.

Look no further than Gronkowski’s first catch. He caught a short out from Brady, then broke away from attempted tackles by Doughty and fellow safety DeJon Gomes next to the sideline, while somehow managing to say inbounds. A few feet away, cornerback DeAngelo Hall stood, watched and didn’t intervene.

Then Gronkowski sped along the sideline for his record-breaking touchdown.

“We both hit. We both wrapped,” Doughty said. “I think I kind of hit him a little bit and knocked him off. I think we both thought he stepped out of bounds. He made a good play. He’s a big guy. I told [Gomes] that can’t happen.”

Left behind were the chances the Redskins‘ defense gave the team to win, such as Wilson’s fourth-quarter interception of Brady in the back of the end zone. So, the Redskins were left praising Gronkowski’s route-running, his size, his strength, his speed and, well, everything.

“I’m glad we were able to keep it to a minimum,” Wilson said, “if you call that a minimum.”