Rob Gronkowski
© Brett Davis | 2019 Feb 3
Rob Gronkowski © Brett Davis | 2019 Feb 3

You didn't think Rob Gronkowski would go out quietly, did you?

If Super Bowl LIII was indeed the final hurrah for the New England Patriots' larger-than-life tight end, he'll go out with the kind of bang only befitting of Gronkowski.

No, his six catches for 87 yards don't scream Gronk domination. But that's exactly what the 29-year-old did when his team needed it the most to begin and basically end New England's game-winning drive.

The Patriots won their sixth Super Bowl, 13-3 over the Los Angeles Rams. And it's certainly possible they would have won it without Gronk, too, given they authored the best defensive Super Bowl performance by the NFL's greatest dynasty.

Still, it was Gronk's two massive catches — an 18-yarder on a wheel route and a 29-yarder on a Patriots staple called "Hoss Y Juke" — revving the offense in a 3-all tie in the latter part of the fourth quarter that led directly to the game's only touchdown.

Yes, it was Sony Michel who plunged in for the score one play after Gronkowski beat Cory Littleton in coverage on the 29-yarder out of the left seam. Sure, it was Super Bowl LIII MVP Julian Edelman with a game-high 10 catches for 141 yards.

But it was Gronk with the biggest offensive play of the game, working from the left slot and gaining a step on Littleton and CB Marcus Peters before hauling in a largely struggling Tom Brady's drop-in-the-bucket down to the two-yard line. And it was Gronk catalyzing the game-winning drive by beating another Rams linebacker, Samson Ebukam, on the opposite side of the field to position New England.

Gronkowski being too big, too strong and too fast for Rams linebackers and defensive backs alike. Talk about a fitting ending.

And it came after he was relatively quiet in the first half. It ended with him at four catches for 40 yards but also after he took a huge shot from Rams LB Mark Barron, after which he came up limping. That's been an all-too-familiar sight for Patriots fans, but it was especially tough to see after he entered Sunday as healthy as he's been all season.

Indeed, a season in which he battled through myriad injuries, even leaving some to wonder whether the most dominant two-way tight end in NFL history was officially washed, ends in classic Gronk fashion.

Lest we forget, it was also Gronk coming up with two huge third-down conversions late in the AFC title game, one week after his biggest contributions came as a devastating blocker in the divisional-round win over the Chargers.

The question now, after he didn't commit to the Patriots to return for his ninth season until the summer, is whether this could be it.

"That decision will be made in a week or two," Gronk said Sunday night.

But Gronk has spoken more and more candidly of late about the toll the game has taken on him and life after football. He's missed 29 combined regular-season games over his previous seven seasons, undergoing multiple procedures on his back and knees. He mulled retirement last offseason, when the Patriots attempted to trade him before he vowed to never play for a quarterback other than Brady and New England restructured his deal.

It didn't exactly feel like water under the bridge, though. Certainly not with a report just surfacing Sunday that stated the Patriots thought Gronk's injury struggles this season were partially fueled by his allegiance to the controversial TB12 fitness program. Gronk is legendary for partying as hard as he plays, the exception to the rule when it comes to cogs in the well-oiled machine that's the Patriot Way.

He's one of the game's more colorful personalities, surely with endless life-after-football opportunities waiting, from professional wrestling to movies to simply being the life of any party he attends.

And that includes Super Bowls.

Gronk is now a three-time champion, but his best performance in four Super Bowls had come last year, when he and Tom Brady sparked the Patriots in the second half before ultimately falling short to the Eagles. Gronk had nine catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns in that game. He scored a touchdown in a previous Super Bowl, too, a six-catch, 68-yard outing to help beat the Seahawks.

Whether it was for the last time or not, this one feels even more special.