Three things to consider as the days count down to the New England Patriots’ eighth consecutive AFC Championship game:
- New England Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski was on the field for 77 of 83 total offensive snaps in the Patriots’ 41-28 domination of the Chargers on Sunday afternoon. That comes out to 93 percent of possible snaps, yet the 29 year-old only managed one catch for 25 yards in the win.
- Kansas City Chiefs’ tight end Travis Kelce played in 83 of 87 possible offensive snaps (95%) in the Chiefs 31-13 rout of the Colts in the other divisional matchup. Kelce, also 29, caught seven balls and led the Chiefs in receiving with 107 yards.
- The two tight ends, both sporting number 87, had the same impact on their respective teams’ victories in the Divisional Round.
The headlines are plentiful for this rematch of a week six tilt, where the Patriots escaped with a 43-40 win. A favorite for MVP against
a favorite for the Greatest of All Time. A flashy and explosive offense against a team that entered the year with uncertainty and doubt, but still managed to rinse and repeat. A game featuring the two best teams in the American Football Conference, with two of the NFL’s top offenses.
I want to talk about a different headline, however. The matchup of Gronkowski vs. Kelce, two of the best tight ends in the NFL. Two 29 year-olds with very similar builds that could go down in history as two of the best to ever play the tight end position.
Regular Season Performance
Rob Gronkowski: After an offseason riddled with questions surrounding his future and rumors about trades and retirement, Gronkowski still put together a decent 2018. He isn’t the overwhelming physical force of the past, nor is he as healthy as he once was. However, the Patriots’ tight end still played in 13 games and caught 47 passes for 682 yards. Gronkowski only found the end zone three times, but at this point in his career, his health and availability trump the numbers.
Travis Kelce: Meanwhile, Kelce put together the best season of his career. The First Team All-Pro tight end racked up 1336 yards and 10 touchdowns on 103 receptions, all career-highs. Kelce placed second among all tight ends in catches, receiving yards, yards per game, and touchdowns, earning him his fourth straight Pro Bowl invitation.
Usage on Offense
Rob Gronkowski: Gronkowski’s 79 career receiving touchdowns are the most by any player in Patriots history. His 7,861 receiving yards are good for second-most in franchise history, behind only Stanley Morgan’s 10,352. But over the years, and the injuries, his role in the offense has evolved.
“He’s a great blocker,” said Tom Brady following the Divisional Round victory, “I think that’s something that goes maybe a little under the radar with his skill set”. His quarterback hit the nail on the head, as Gronkowski played a major role in his team’s 155 rushing yards and 4.6 yards per carry. Rob Gronkowski the blocker has been more prominent than ever this season, and his multifaceted skill set will once again impact the Patriots’ offense this Sunday.
Travis Kelce: On the other hand, Kelce currently looks a lot like Gronkowski of Patriot Past. With career-highs across the board, the star of those new McDonald’s commercials is one of Patrick Mahomes’ favorite targets and a formidable red-zone threat. This season, Kelce led the Chiefs in targets and receptions, while second in yards and touchdowns, behind only Tyreek Hill. While Gronkowski now operates as more of a decoy and draws coverage away from other receivers, Kelce is a focal point in the Kansas City passing game.
Rob Gronkowski: In the Patriots’ week six victory against the Chiefs, Gronkowski turned three receptions into 97 yards. In five career matchups, he’s totaled over 300 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns. Gronkowski should continue his success against the Chiefs and their bottom-two pass defense this weekend, when he’s not creating running lanes of course.
Travis Kelce: The Patriots contained the All-Pro tight end in week six, holding him to five catches for just 61 yards. He has just three touchdowns in three meetings between the two teams, and I can guarantee Kelce is a featured component of the Patriots’ defensive gameplan going into the AFC Championship.
The Patriots will play the Chiefs this Sunday at 6:40 PM, where two elite teams, and two elite tight ends, will play for a trip to Atlanta.
-Ethan Roy is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @_ethanroy