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Fall foliage was starting to turn, the Patriots were 3-0, and rumor had it Rob Gronkowski was quite possibly maybe hopefully set to rejoin and rejuvenate Tom Brady’s struggling offense for Sunday night’s tilt against the Atlanta Falcons. Life in New England was good.
Then Saturday’s Boston Herald report happened.
According to the Boston Herald and ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Patriots brass and Gronkowski’s camp differ over the star tight end’s status for Week 4. After weeks of practicing and ramping up to catching passes and taking contact, Gronkowski has been deemed good to go by Patriots medical staff and higher ups, according to the ever-enigmatic “sources.” Gronkowski and his circle of agents, family, and friends, meanwhile, beg to differ, citing his five recent surgeries – including multiple on his broken forearm and one on his back – as evidence that this would be rushing him back onto the field.
So who’s right? Should Gronk be on the field for Sunday Night Football, or should the Patriots hold him out for another week?
It seems strange that Gronkowski is able to participate in tackle drills and take contact during Patriots practices, yet can’t translate that physicality to game day – especially when players and coaches (according to Schefter) wonder what the delay is. It seems reasonable to wonder what or where the disconnect is, and why he wouldn’t be able to take the field even for just a limited snap count (much like Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller, who returned to the field in Week 3 for just 39 snaps after undergoing ACL surgery).
Yet if Gronkowski himself doesn’t trust his body to hold up under the increased wear and tear of actual game speed as opposed to practice (cue Allen Iverson), what sense is there putting him on the field? When an athlete is unable to trust his or her body to respond in the way they expect it to and are used to, he or she is naturally at greater risk without being able to fully commit. For football, Gronkowski is also not as helpful to the team when he is worrying about getting injured instead of running the right route or sealing the edge (though any amount of Gronk would seem to be a positive for the Patriots offense, especially in the red zone).
Beyond the injury, as high profile a game as Sunday night is, it isn’t all that important for the Patriots (outside of shooting for another undefeated season). The Patriots have already jumped out to an undefeated start, including two big (if fugly) wins over their division rival Buffalo Bills and New York Jets. As Schefter referenced, is it of the utmost importance for Gronkowski to rush back (at least from his perspective) for an out-of-division contest and a chance to go 4-0 instead of 3-1?
Granted, the Patriots have a tough schedule ahead (at Cincinnati, home against New Orleans in Weeks 5 and 6), and any win is a big win in the NFL. But as much as I trust Bill Belichick to do what’s best for the team (with long-term view towards the rest of the season), Gronkowski’s doubts about his own health is reason enough for little old me to keep Gronk on the sidelines one more week.
Yes, even if it means sitting through an offensive struggle of a Sunday night game, watching Tom Brady scream in frustration after Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins run into each other on a confused crossing route beneath the raucous Atlanta dome.