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The question has been floating around the NFL for more than two years. Defensive players and coaches have sought enlightenment to a universally vexing dilemma. How does one go about stopping The Gronk? New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski went on a rampage last year. Answers were few.
The former Williamsville North star was only 22 years old when he recorded the greatest statistical season for a tight end. Gronkowski had 90 catches for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns. He also rushed for a touchdown.
He was Tom Brady's target when the Patriots were down to their final play in the Super Bowl. The ankle injury that slowed Gronkowski in the title game is considered a substantial difference-maker in the New York Giants' upset victory.
Opponents, however, can't count on injuries to curtail Gronkowski's imposing presence.
There must be a way to beat him. Right?
"I can't tell you the real secrets," laughed Chris Gronkowski, one of the three Gronkowski brothers who've made it to the NFL.
"They should try to get LeBron James to play corner against him. That might help out."
The Buffalo Bills would love to uncover any secret tactics for this afternoon's game against the Patriots in Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Perhaps solutions can be found by reviewing what the Baltimore Ravens did against the Patriots last week. The Ravens limited Rob Gronkowski to two catches, and the Patriots lost their second straight game.
But the Bills have yet to keep Gronkowski out of the end zone. In four career games against the Bills he has 22 catches for 314 yards and seven touchdowns. He has scored twice in each of the last three meetings with his hometown team.
"You're not going to stop him," Bills defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt said. "We all know that.
"He's your complete package. Most tight ends are either just blockers or just receivers. He does both, and you have to respect him in all areas. That's a challenge. He's hurt us."
Gronkowski is 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds. He has a lumbering stride, but he is deceptively fast. His hands are terrific, and it doesn't hurt that his quarterback has pinpoint accuracy.
"They haven't found anybody to guard him yet," said 6-foot-7 Bills tight end Scott Chandler. "Until anybody finds that guy, they'll keep finding ways to win. What Rob did last year has never been done before.
"Teams around the league are trying to find guys. I'm not sure there is one. I don't think Rob Gronkowski could guard Rob Gronkowski."
Buffalo's top Gronk defender likely will be Bryan Scott, a 6-1, 220-pound linebacker who entered the league as a cornerback. Scott said the Atlanta Falcons drafted him in the second round in 2003 for the purpose of stopping tall Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Joe Jurevicius.
"When he's out there, I expect to be out there and go to his side," Scott said. "I'll have my fair share of dealing with Gronk."
Scott should get Gronk help from safeties in bracket coverage, but will that be enough?
"He's not the fastest tight end in the league," Scott said. "He's not the strongest tight end in the league. I don't even know if he has the best hands in the league.
"But he has a combination of all those things, and it's - like Coach Gailey talks about - that perfect storm. When you get that right mix of wind and temperature and rain, it creates a big storm. That's pretty much him."
That combination makes it difficult for anyone who draws the assignment of stopping Gronkowski - whether it's on the football field, a basketball court or in the family's basement.
"I tried to guard him in basketball when we were younger," Chris Gronkowski, a Denver Broncos fullback, said this week by phone. "I would try to be as physical as possible, but he was so good at using his size to his advantage.
"He's able to put his body on you and then use it to get around you. Once he gets behind a defender, they can't get back over top of him and it's over. I'm not really sure how you do it. You've got to make sure he doesn't get started in a route. Once he does, it's hard to stop him."
Within the next couple of days, Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio might approach Chris Gronkowski for tips on stopping Rob Gronkowski. The Broncos visit the Patriots next Sunday.
Maybe some well-timed taunts from his big brother would do the trick.
"Pretty much anything we said to him, he'd flip out," Chris Gronkowski said. "He was crazy as a kid. We all were, so no matter what happened - if he lost a game or we said a goal didn't count - it would start all-out brawls.
"Anything worked. He doesn't want to lose at anything, and when you're a kid you think you're the best. So when you start losing, you just start fighting instead."
Rob Gronkowski must've been miserable this week. Not only did the Patriots drop below .500 for the first time in nine years, but he also had one of his poorest games since coming of age late in his rookie season.
"Yeah, it definitely is hard to let go of a game," Rob Gronkowski said Wednesday on a conference call with Bills reporters, "but it's a new week now."
Gronkowski is coming off a game that made alarms wail in the Boston area. The Ravens actually neutralized him, something that didn't seem possible last year.
Gronkowski finished with two receptions for 21 yards. Only once last season did he fail to catch at least four passes. He didn't score a touchdown for just the third time in his last 12 regular-season games.
Baltimore checked him with an aggressive defense that forced him to help a susceptible offensive line with pass protection. Baltimore sacked Brady twice, hit him six times and hurried him even more.
Gronkowski had to block more than he usually does, frequently lining up on the right side to deal with Ravens outside linebacker Paul Kruger. And when Gronkowski did run a route, Brady often had to get rid of the ball quickly.
Buffalo, of course, has a defensive line that was assembled for the purpose of getting after quarterbacks, especially Brady. Gronkowski might have to help New England's offensive tackles stop dangerous edge-rushers Mario Williams and Mark Anderson.
Buffalo's nine sacks are tied for the seventh in the NFL. Defensive tackle Kyle Williams has three sacks in the last two games. Brady has been dumped seven times and now will be without All-Pro left guard Logan Mankins, who won't play because of a hip injury.
Gronkowski chalked up his lack of production against Baltimore to circumstances and doing as offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels instructed.
"It's a team game," Gronkowski said. "Whatever plays are called, I'm just going out there and doing my job. Whatever's asked of me, I'm just going to go out there and perform my routes and how I've been coached all week, perform in the running game, pass blocking, run blocking, whatever it is."
Scott will be one of many in Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday who can't count on Gronkowski being silent two weeks in a row.
"Not at all because at any time Tom can target him 20 times," Scott said. "Gronk's numbers are a little down from last year, but you can't really plan on that because you know what kind of potential he has and what he's capable of."

email: tgraham@buffnews.com