First off, the Patriots were 5-1 and Steelers 5-2 going into the contest. Each is in serious contention for home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, and the winner of their Week 8 matchup would boast the tiebreaker. Deeper than that though, there is plenty of familiarity between the two squads.
Both franchises have dominated the NFL since the turn of the century. Every single game between the pair has been a meaningful one. A few of those showdowns has even come in the postseason.
On top of all that, Gronkowski played his senior season of high school football at Woodland Hills, a Pittsburgh powerhouse well-known for being a pro factory. Playing again in the area where his reputation took off is a big deal for the up-and-coming tight end. Speaking of his reputation…
Like the former Arizona Wildcat needed any more motivation for the game on Sunday, the picture he took with adult film actress BiBi Jones in a Patriots jersey ignited controversy. Critics bashed the young player for tarnishing New England’s name while others scowled at the fact that he was linking, not only the team, but himself with a known porn star.
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Gronkowski’s performance against the Steelers didn’t show distraction, but determination. He was the only Pats receiver who got going as he led the team in receptions with seven and receiving yards with 94. Nearly half of Tom Brady’s yards were on Gronkowski’s back, and if it weren’t for his effort, Pittsburgh would’ve won by an even larger margin.
It isn't like Gronkowski doesn’t put up big numbers week in and week out, but he was definitely well fueled going into this battle.
David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer. Follow him on Twitter.