ATLANTA -- Rob Gronkowski had the last locker before the showers in the Patriots dressing room. The game had ended an hour before but Gronk still had his jersey and shoulder pads on.
His pants? Not on. He was in his underwear and he kept pressing on his thigh.
"Look at this," he said.
I looked at the side of his thigh where he was poking. It looked stupidly big. Swollen from just above the knee for about 20 inches.
"Touch it," he encouraged.
I touched. Yep, swollen.
The misshapen thigh was caused by second-quarter hit on which Gronk was sandwiched and upended. He limped to the sideline and the limp got worse when he got into the bench area. He didn't miss any plays which -- given the way the thing looked now -- was kind of amazing.
"Is that the worst you've ever had?" I asked him, figuring it probably was because the expression on his face was somewhere between mortified and amused.
"No, it's about the same as other ones," he said. "But I can barely walk!"
"What will it look like tomorrow?" I asked.
"It will be red . . . black and blue," he said. "But at least I don't have to worry about it now."
Doesn't have to worry about it now because there are no more games this year. With this vicious thigh shot, as opposed to the two he took against Miami and the one he took against the Vikings, he won't be rehabbing in hopes of being able to practice on Wednesday or Thursday and then play next Sunday.
This time, he can just let it heal without the pressure and the urgency all the while knowing more and different pain is in store for him.
That blown-up thigh is an example of what Gronk was talking about Wednesday when he said to me, "Try and imagine getting hit all the time and trying to be where you want to be every day in life. It's tough, it's difficult. To take hits to the thigh, take hits to your head. Abusing your body isn't what your brain wants. When your body is abused, it can bring down your mood. You've got to be able to deal with that, too, throughout the season.
"No one realizes that, and everyone expects us players to be wide awake every single day, and it's like 'Yo, I just took 50 collisions, and then like the next day everyone wants you to be up'. They want practice full speed, next week they want the game to be full speed, but they don't understand sometimes what players are going through with their bodies, with their minds."
When I got to Gronk he was already talked out.
I asked him if he'd announced what he planned to do.
"I'm going to the party," he said.
"I mean after that, if you're retiring," I clarified.
"Oh no, that's not for tonight," he said. "This is about the team. I'll wait a couple of weeks then make my decision."
Another reporter asked Gronk what he planned to do tomorrow when he realized there was no football to prepare for.
"Well, I gotta get on the team plane home . . . " he said.
"I'm super excited just to chill," he said. "We need it. We need it. We definitely need it."
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