(Yahoo!) The voice was catching. The eyes were watering up.
This was obvious emotion, heartfelt emotion. And it was coming from a man who goes 6-foot-6, 265 pounds, sounds like a fraternity pledge, answers to the monosyllabic grunt of "Gronk" and once, in busted Spanish, declared "Yo soy fiesta," or "I am party."
For six days Rob Gronkowski had listened as the New England Patriots got berated and buried for their pathetic performance in a loss at Kansas City. He was fine taking the hits personally, he said. He sucked. Whatever.
It was the attacks on Tom Brady, his friend, his confidant and his quarterback that angered him.
"Yeah, yeah, definitely," Gronkowski said. "I told my brother before we came to the game, 'I'm going to make 12 look like Tom Brady again today, baby.'"
Suddenly the tight end's voice changed, the words holding real meaning and everyone, perhaps most of all Gronk himself, was surprised at what was happening.
"I went out there, with my teammates, and we made Tom Brady look like Tom Brady after you guys were criticizing him all week, the fans, everything," he finished.
Gronk didn't cry. He just came close.
And, yeah, yeah, definitely, Tom Brady sure did look like Tom Brady, what with the 292 yards passing and a couple touchdowns and the fist pumps and the celebrations and the satisfying postgame handshake with Bill Belichick and everything else that went into a 43-17 buzz-sawing of the Cincinnati Bengals. This was a satisfying answer for Monday's 41-14 blowout loss to the Chiefs.
The NFL is about adjustments, responses and improvements and, yes, media and fan weekly overreaction when nothing is as great or as terrible as it seems.
"I get [emails] from people who are concerned," Brady said. "I'm always emailing them back like, 'Nobody died. It's just a loss.'"
The NFL is also, however, sometimes just about a group of prideful players wanting to get back on the field and win, and not just for themselves.
"It's a game of emotion," Brady noted.
Emotions were high after a week of bloodletting in the local and national media, not to mention from the fans themselves. The Patriots' dynastic run was declared dead. Belichick was suddenly a bumbling judge of talent. Brady was deemed past his prime.
ESPN claimed Brady not only was dealing with "tension" between he and the coaching staff but that the team had settled on a plan for rookie Jimmy Garoppolo to succeed him "sooner than later" (although probably not this year).
The intensity of it all was impressive. Part was fan panic over the idea the NFL's most consistent winner was headed to its inevitable winter. Part was a chance for some pent-up Patriots bashing to be unleashed. Part was an honest assessment after a horrible performance.
The words, reports and predictions almost didn't matter. Brady wasn't concerned with what he said wasn't true.
"I love all those guys, all my coaches," Brady said. "And I've never had any tension with any of them truthfully. That's unfortunate that some things get said and talked about especially when they don't come from me."
What bothered him was that it was out there at all. It was a strange week in Foxborough if only because this is a buttoned-up organization that attempts to ignore "the noise." And yet here it was, right in the middle of a storm of gossip about tensions and raised voices and even showing the greatest player in franchise history the door for a rookie from Eastern Illinois.
"Especially [during] a real tough week for our team, to deal with some things that are really outside of football, that are very personal and very personal relationships," Brady said. "I've known [the coaches] a long time. I have a lot of love and trust for everybody in this building…
"I think the great thing about this team is when we win we spread it around to everybody," he continued. "And when we lose we always take it to heart. I think that's probably different than what human nature is. I think when you lose, a lot of times that's when people start pointing fingers. And instead we tend to blame ourselves, which is probably a great thing for us."
The result was a team that took the field here Sunday night with something to prove, not just for themselves but for each other, a slight but important distinction.
This was more than just the Pride of the Patriots. It was Pride for their fellow Patriots. The most shameful part of Monday's loss was that each player let the others down.
Tom Brady is more than just any Patriot, the one who the players say works as hard as anyone and cares the most of anyone and has certainly won more than anyone. Now he was blasted?
Sometimes proof of leadership is best exhibited by what others will do for the leader when the leader hasn't even asked them to do it.
"We'll go to the ends of the earth for our guy," wide receiver Matthew Slater said.
Brady looked angry on the first drive, intense in ways rarely seen because he's often made fans wonder if he lacks fire and passion, no matter the wins. The narrative on him has long shifted past being a determined, sixth-round pick who turned himself into a Hall of Famer. Maybe it's all the winning or the haircuts or the Uggs billboards or the supermodel wife or whatever.
Sunday there was a wear-it-on-your-sleeve, Favre-esque competitiveness with Brady slinging fastballs and taking off and running vertical and sticking his head down on fourth-and-1.
"When you see your quarterback out there sacrificing his body and doing whatever it takes to win the football game, you better make sure you're doing the same," Slater said. "We just feed off of him. He still plays the game with a child-like joy."
The Pats led 7-0 early, 14-0 quickly and 20-3 by the half. They jammed the ball right down the Bengals' throats throughout. Gronk did his part with six receptions for 100 yards and a touchdown.
Cincy never stood a chance. Not on this night. Not in this environment. Not with this much on the line.
Garoppolo did succeed Brady, but it was only to run the victory formation.
That was long after the fans chanted "Bray-DEE, Bray-DEE," which was part guilty apology for whatever they said to each other last Monday night, and part celebration for what they were seeing and part thank you for all the nights like these he'd given them.
"It was pretty sweet," offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer.
Sometimes emotion can trump execution. Sometimes effort can mean more than strategy. Sometimes the NFL just doesn't make any sense: lose by 27 … win by 26.
And sometimes it's just about the biggest bro on the team having his guy's back.
"I just know that stuff was said," Gronk said. "If they said he was old … that's some b.s. He's a young buck in my book. I feel like he's my age."
Later 37-year-old Tom Brady was told about his 25-year-old tight end getting emotional as he defended his honor.
"I love that guy," Brady smiled.