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Rob Gronkowski eager for ‘epic’ Bucs-Patriots Week 4 matchup

Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski is eager to face the New England Patriots in Foxborough when their prime-time matchup rolls around in Week 4.

The NFL schedule is filled with compelling games, but especially in the early portion of the season, there’s no duel more highly anticipated than this one, as Gronk and Tom Brady square off with the Pats for the first time since they left.

Speaking to the Bucs’ official website, Gronkowski described how he thinks it’ll feel to return to New England, per NFL.com’s Kevin Patra:

“That’s going to be crazy. It’s going to be pretty epic. It’s definitely going to be emotional for sure, I would say. I just had a great nine years (in New England). Probably the best nine years of my life. […] It’s definitely going to be heartfelt when I go back. […] I’ve got to be prepared for every game, but especially that one.”

Rob Gronkowski on facing the New England Patriots in Week 4

The Buccaneers will take on the Patriots on Sunday, October 3, at 8:20 p.m. ET in a showdown that’ll be televised on NBC.

New England head coach Bill Belichick spent aggressively in free agency to upgrade his roster. It’ll be fascinating to see whether the Pats can stack up with this loaded Tampa Bay team, especially with an uncertain quarterback situation as Cam Newton and Mac Jones compete for the starting job.

Why Rob Gronkowski, Bucs offense can be even better in 2021

Why Rob Gronkowski, Bucs offense can be even better in 2021
Feb 7, 2020; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) celebrates after catching a pass for a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs during the second quarter of Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Considering that Gronk had taken a full season away from the gridiron to heal his battered body, that he was playing himself into football shape and learning an entirely new offense alongside Brady on the fly, and that Tampa Bay didn’t really click until after its Week 13 bye in 2020, it’s incredible how productive he was last season.

Gronkowski’s chemistry with Brady certainly paid dividends, yet there were plenty of times where the Bucs’ multitude of other weapons either benefited from the attention Gronk attracted from defenses, or had more time to get open because of his blocking efforts to help in max protection situations, or in establishing the rushing attack.

Related: Everything you need to know about the 2021 NFL season

But if there were any doubts that Gronk still had something in the tank, he dismissed those abruptly with six catches on seven targets for 67 yards and two touchdowns in Tampa Bay’s 31-9 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.

With Brady and Gronk getting another year in the system masterminded by Bruce Arians and Byron Leftwich, they’ll only be more comfortable in the offense this season. Plus, the Bucs retained all their starters, so there’s continuity and innate familiarity for everyone involved.

Rob Gronkowski stats, projections for 2021 season

For the 2020 regular season, Gronkowski had 45 receptions for 623 yards and seven touchdowns. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say he’ll slightly boost that production, especially with a 17th game added to the NFL schedule.

Thus, look for Gronkowski to put up something in the neighborhood of 55 catches for 750 yards and eight TDs.

Gronkowski’s stats could probably be even gaudier if he were playing somewhere else. There’s only one football to go around, and the Bucs are loaded at wide receiver with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown and Scotty Miller. They also have capable pass-catchers at tight end in Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard.

Whatever the bottom-line numbers wind up being for Gronkowski, he’s an elite blocker who’ll be able to contribute to that facet of the offense, which will only make it more difficult for defenders to track him when he does slip out to catch a pass.

While Gronkowski, Brady and the Bucs’ talented cast pose a serious challenge to Belichick and the Patriots, no one knows TB12 and Gronk better than The Hoodie. They won’t have to wait long into the 2021 campaign to get a crack at each other.

Related: NFL Power Rankings – 2021 outlook before training camp