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Shutdown Corner

Rob Gronkowski pays tribute to ‘that little Nutcracker dude’ in London game

Shutdown Corner

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has been at less than 100 percent, regularly showing up on the team's practice participation and injury reports due to a hip injury that has had him "questionable" for the last few games. Gronkowski's hip was not an issue in the Patriots' 45-7 thumping of the St. Louis Rams in London, England, on Sunday as the Pro Bowl tight end had a game-high eight receptions for 146 yards with a pair of touchdowns.

Gronkowski's most impressive catch occurred at the 1:21 mark of the first quarter. Quarterback Tom Brady's throw was a bit behind Gronkowski, who had beaten Rams safety Quintin Mikell down the left seam before making a nice adjustment to haul in the 25-yard reception that gave the Patriots a first-and-goal at the Ram's 1-yard line. Gronkowski appeared to have rolled into the end zone for a touchdown, and was preparing for a "Gronk" spike, but he was ruled down at the 1-yard line after being contacted by safety Craig Dahl. Running back Shane Vereen found the end zone four plays later to give New England a 14-7 lead over the Rams early in the second quarter.

On the Patriots' next possession, Gronkowski once again helped put the offense in scoring position, first with a 17-yard gain on a tight end screen and then on a 32-yard catch-and-run that gave New England another first-and-goal situation.

[Also: Colts rookie RB delivers play of the year candidate]

Facing third-and-goal from the 7-yard line, Gronkowski took advantage of the Rams' decision to drop rookie defensive tackle Michael Brockers into coverage in the middle of the field. Brady and Gronkowski recognized the mismatch and connected for the touchdown. After the score, Gronkowski paid homage to the guards at Buckingham Palace before the delivering a "Gronk" spike.

"That little nutcracker dude that's guarding the house," Gronk said after the game, when asked who he was honoring. "I like how he just sits there and stays still. It's pretty cool."

"I don't know what the hell he was doing [on] that first one," Brady said of the spike. "Yeah, he needs some work on that."

Gronkowski added a 14-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter to pull even with Victor Cruz and A.J. Green for the NFL lead with seven receiving touchdowns on the 2012 season.

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