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Lions plot strategy to stop Patriots' Gronk

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Coach Bill Belichick tried to give credit to everyone on the Patriots' offense, but there's no hiding the key to success during the team's current six-game winning streak.

After all, it's hard to hide when you're a 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end who throws would-be tacklers to the ground and dances awkwardly in the end zone.

Rob Gronkowski leads all NFL tight ends with 734 yards and is tied for third among all pass catches with nine touchdowns this season. In the last six games, Gronkowski has 40 catches for 587 yards and six touchdowns.

"He's Gronk," said Lions wide receiver Jeremy Ross, whose career started in New England in 2011. "The name fits him. He's just this guy who's this meathead dude who goes in and catches the ball and just makes plays.

"He's like, 'I'm Gronk. I'm going to get in there, I'm going to throw people off me, I'm going to score and do whatever I can to make plays. And that's what he does."

So when the Lions (7-3) travel to Foxborough, Mass. to play the Patriots (8-2) Sunday, limiting Gronkowski will be among the top priorities.

"It's a team effort," Lions free safety Glover Quin said. "Everybody chips in. Obviously, when we get him in situations where he's having to block, our defensive ends, we've got to rough him up. When we get him in situations where he catches the ball, we've got to make sure we're hitting him. When we've got him in situations where we're covering him, we've got to make sure we're covering him.

"Hopefully, we get some pressure on the quarterback and that forces bad throws. There's a lot that goes into stopping somebody."

Gronkowski's recent stretch of dominance is nothing new. In 2011, he set the NFL record with 1,327 receiving yards, and he and Brady have connected for 51 touchdowns in their five seasons, despite Gronkowski missing 14 games the past two years due to injury.

After a slow start to the season, Gronkowski finally looks 100 percent, but he and his coach denied that he's the primary reason for the recent winning streak.

"Rob has done a good job but so have a lot of other people, and collectively as a group we've played more consistently than we had earlier in the year," Belichick said.

After the Patriots' first win on their current six-game winning streak, which followed an embarrassing 41-14 loss in Kansas City, Gronkowski said he wanted to help Brady look like the player everyone has expected the past several years. Gronkowski and Brady have continued to play well, and limiting the tight end is one way to slow Brady and the offense.

The Lions have struggled at times covering tight ends this season. Arizona tight ends had five catches for 69 yards last week, and Miami's Charles Clay had seven catches for 45 yards in Week 10. If Gronkowski has that many opportunities, it'd be hard for the Lions to keep him out of the end zone.

"He's an exceptional player," Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. "He's a big man and he can do so many things. He's outside, he's inside, he blocks, he runs, he catches the ball well, and he runs after the catch. You have to account for where he is because he such a dynamic player."