FOXBOROUGH — The sign outside the restaurant a mile up the road from where Rob Gronkowski scores touchdowns has a flashing suggestion for motorists: "HONK FOR GRONK!"
Plenty of car horns will be blaring if the fun-loving marquee tight end returns next Monday as a Super Bowl champion.
If his season so far is any indication, Gronkowski will have a major role when the New England Patriots face the New York Giants next Sunday in the NFL championship game.
One sign of his importance? Much of the Super Bowl talk to date has focused on Gronkowski's balky left ankle.
"He's had a lot of production," coach Bill Belichick said. "He's had a lot of touchdowns. He's had a lot of good blocks. I don't know what a 'game changer' is, but he's definitely made some plays."
A possible game changer is a tight end who is so good after the catch that he has 21 receptions of more than 20 yards among his total of 90. Or a player who scored three touchdowns in a seven-point win over Indianapolis. Or a 265-pound steamroller who mows down defenders on the way to the end zone. Or even a battering blocker who springs teammates for big gains.
Gronkowski has done all that. And that makes him a potential game-breaker.
"No question," wide receiver Matthew Slater said. "He's kind of a once-in-a-lifetime talent with the skill set that he has. So we love getting him the ball in his hands, and he loves having the ball in his hands, and he does special things when he has the ball in his hands."
Hands like a vise.
On the first of his three touchdowns in a 45-10 divisional playoff win over the Denver Broncos, Gronkowski dove in the left side of the end zone and got his right hand on Tom Brady's 10-yard pass. The ball popped up and, acrobatically, he grabbed it with both hands and clutched it as he fell.