New England Patriots Opinion: Less Gronkowski Is More Gronkowski


New England Patriots Rob Gronkowski’s health and medical charts updates are getting more hits than any party-time story Gronk has ever been involved. First, his arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle in 2012 after suffering a high ankle sprain in the AFC Championship game. This past Monday, Gronk just underwent a fourth surgery on his left broken forearm to replace the plate, an injury originated last November in a game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Jan 1, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) and tight end Aaron Hernandez (81) watch from the sideline as they take on the Buffalo Bills in the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Bill 49-21. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

As you know, that’s not it. Gronk might need back surgery due to a disk issue caused last season, which is not related to the same disk problem in 2009. Rumors are that the injury is not to be cause of concern and recovery time could take 10 weeks, if all goes well. Easier said than done as in my opinion, no surgery is a minor surgery as it throws off the body’s balance. Heck, even the flu can set the body off track. And for a football player, who is doing extraordinary-super-human things, any discomfort alters the speed, flexibility, and reaction time in the NFL.

So what to do in Gronk’s situation when it’s so obvious that he’s a master game-changer in that offense? Yes, the Patriots can win regular season games and advance to the playoffs, but struggle a bit when it’s time to punch in the playoffs without Gronk.

Musket Fire staff writer Tim Dillon points out when Gronk should be playing. If Gronk is not 100%, either because of his forearm or due to back surgery, I agree it would be wise to give more time for healing and conditioning/strengthen build up if Gronk starts on Week 4 against the Atlanta Falcons. Having a healthy Gronk or not, the game-plan should be adjusted and not relied so much on a “security blanket”. Wes Welker was labeled as Brady’s “security blanket” and basically our offense’s blanket. Although we didn’t have durability problems with Welker, we have the Gronk situation labeled as “security blanket” due to his on-and-off field and the whole stipulation of whether we’re asking too much from Brady and whether the Patriots can win big.

As much as I don’t want to fall into the “security blanket” trap and create a mentality that we can’t win games or championships without Gronk, the stats and numbers don’t lie, and there’s no doubt we’re better off with Gronk on the field. He is the best tight end in the league that can block and catch passes. Christopher Price wrote an amazing piece pointing out his thoughts on Gronk’s past, present and future. He even mentioned about an interview he had with sports injury expert Will Carroll on Gronk’s situation. The point that caught my attention was “injury-prone” and Price added part of Will Carrolll’s interview.

“To me, when we see these multiple system failures, it is something that [Dr. James Andrews] calls a ‘tissue issue.’ There’s probably some genetic issue to it. Some things can hold up better than others. Certainly, he’s talented. Certainly, he’s really, really talented. But I do think he’s going to have to deal with these injuries throughout his career. And I don’t think it’s going to be a very long one. He could have seven, eight really, good, productive years that will really help the Patriots. But they’re going to have to deal with these sorts of injuries all along that time frame.”

But if that is as good as it gets and it is what it is, then everybody better step up and adjust the thermostat. By that, I imply managing Gronk’s play-time and from a medical stand point, (not that I’m an expert, but sounds reasonable) perhaps give him some extra time to heal. If normally takes ten weeks or twelve weeks to recover, give some room by adding another week or so (unless there’s some kind of “magical-legal” antler spray for him to use and expedite recovery just in time for the Super Bowl, then I’m all for it).

As for play-time, perhaps less is more. Gronk broke his left forearm in a play during an extra-point attempt with less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter in the game against the Colts. The Patriots were already ahead by 35 points and closed the game 59-24. With four minutes still in the clock, Gronk went down to the locker room. Why in the world are the starters even on the field when the game is mathematically in the bag?

Two months later, Gronk was back on the field only to re-break his forearm in the first game of the playoffs. Aaron Hernandez is a great example of what appears to be “rushing” injury healing. More likely that if the medical staff cleared a player for the game and that player affirms he can play, of course the result will be expressed by seeing that player on the field. Is it better to have an 80% Gronk or Hernandez on the field instead of their 100% back up on the field?

Well, more likely one would rather have 80% of his starter than 100% of his back up. But is it better in the long run and at what price?

I don’t think so. I would rather allow more healing time for my starters than running the risk of aggravating an existing injury and not being able to use my starter when winning really counts. It makes more sense to have my 100% back up that produces less than an 80% Gronk or any other starter, but that I can get a “W” at the end of the day of regular season. The team might not win by a differential of 38, 35, 30, 28, 24, or 10 points lead, but hey, if I can get a “W” utilizing my back up while my starter heals for the big show, this is doing what’s in the best interest of the team.

In the Hernandez situation, he suffered a high sprained ankle injury in Week 2 against the Arizona Cardinals. The diagnosis was a four-to-six-week off field. After only four weeks, he was on the lineup in Week 6 against the Seattle Seahawks caught 6 passes for 30 yards and 1 touchdown. He played the next game in Week 7 against the New York Jets finishing with 5 catches for 54 yards and no touchdowns. For Week 8 and the Bye Week, the Patriots decided to rule out Hernandez and for Week 11 he was still out due to the lingering ankle injury, but his return was much more successful from Week 12 forward.

The bottom line is injuries are part of the game and it’s just as important to evaluate and maximize player durability as it is to consider which player to draft,  which playbook to use or which play to call. There is a reason why coaches don’t utilize starters players in all four preseason games. Such reasoning should also be applied during regular season mainly when the team is already leading by 35 points under five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, or by any lead that mathematically and logically shows no possibility for the trailed team to make a comeback.

If a player is the contributor and the ultimate game-changer, either on the defense or offense, which we’re so dependent on such “security blanket” to advance, reach, and win the ultimate prize, you better believe there’s a job to do to protect and care. The job should be maximizing player durability and not overusing and wearing out the “security blanket” before we get to the big stage.

Follow Celia Westbrook on Twitter @celiawestbrook