Trudging back to the huddle with less than 30 seconds on the clock and after seeing a second pass sail over his head, Rob Gronkowski cut a lonely and dejected figure as the New England Patriots fell to a second defeat on the bounce.
Not only had the veteran tight end hauled in just two catches in the week 15 defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers, for only 21 yards, but he was coming off the back of a humiliating final seconds loss to the Dolphins – for which he has been mocked after his stumble played a huge part in the much-lauded Miami Miracle play.
Head down and the ringing of the raucous Steelers fans in his ears, the 29-year-old must have been questioning why he didn’t call it a day at the start of the season – as he had threatened – instead of returning for what has been an extremely stop-start campaign.
Despite being far from his best this season, Gronk unquestionably still ranks among the top tight ends in the league.
But, as some one who has achieved more than many professional players ever have, or ever will, is the desire still there to take the hits and grind out the performances each week?
And if he still has the desire, does his head coach Bill Belichick, who attempted to send him to Detroit in the off-season, still believe in him?
The off-season football void this past summer was filled with Patriots rumour.
It was said big name players were unhappy, Coach Belichik refused to allow fun and stars such as Gronkowski and Tom Brady would not be sticking around in New England for much longer.
The latter was only furthered by Brady, 41, and his big-match go-to option Gronk not turning up for OTAs and dropping suggestive soundbites in interviews while their team mates were hard at work.
It wasn’t helped by the five-time pro bowl tight end revealing he was unsure he wanted to return to football this season after defeat against the Eagles in last year’s Super Bowl.
Of course, the first signs Gronkowski may not be at his same performance levels should have come when Belichik was willing to trade him to the Lions – only for the tight end to threaten to retire and put an end to the negotiations.
This week, former Pats offensive lineman Damien Woody claimed his ex-coach knew the tight end was on the verge of being over the hill.
Woody tweeted: “Remember when Bill tried to trade Gronk to Detroit this past off-season? He knew that Gronk was a shell of himself.”
And the former Pat may well be right, with Gronkowski returning 658 yards and three touchdowns in the 11 games he has played.
With just two weeks left before the post-season begins, the Pats will be turning out in January and will almost certainly still have an excellent chance of reaching the Super Bowl thanks to Brady’s experience and the master coaching of Belichick.
However, when the curtain finally comes down on this season in New England what comes next for Gronk?
Given his current demeanour, retirement is looking more likely than ever before.
Massachusetts native and Pats fan John Cena claimed Gronk would be right at home in the WWE, believing the transition would be ‘so natural’ for him.
It should be noted, Gronk has been involved with sports entertainment brand, helping his pal Mojo Rawley win the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale at Wrestlemania 33.
The tight end has also been courted by Hollywood before now and appeared in three movies.
Cutting back to Pittsburgh, with less than 30 seconds left on the clock, it seemed certain that a frustrated Gronkowski would rather have been anywhere else but on that pitch.
Dave Bodymore is a national newspaper journalist who hasfollowed the NFL since around 2005. You can find him on Twitter @DaveBodymore.
Image credit: NESN