Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) during warm-ups prior to the game against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Beyond quarterback Tom Brady, there is no player on the offense more vital to the New England Patriots’ success than tight end Rob Gronkowski. With Gronkowski not rehabbing from surgery for the first postseason since his rookie year in 2011, he seems poised to eclipse his 82 receptions for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns (all stats from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted) to go with his 16 receptions for 204 yards and 3 touchdowns in the postseason on the way to his first Super Bowl ring.
Gronkowski has been the best player at his position–when healthy. Unfortunately for New England, it seems he has been injured almost every season.
Gronkowski played all sixteen games as a rookie and in his second season, but the playoffs saw Gronkowski trying to play through an ankle injury that left his as a decoy in the Super Bowl loss. Offseason surgery saw him back to his dominant self in 2012–until a freak broken forearm while blocking on an extra point sidelined him until the playoffs.
Dec 1, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) spikes the football after a touchdown reception in the first quarter against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
New England rushed him back as Gronkowski returned when not ready against Houston in the playoffs and he re-broke the same forearm diving for a pass in the playoffs. Gronkowski had multiple surgeries on his forearm and had back surgery as well after the 2012 season. This time Gronkowski delayed his return until he was fully healed missing a number of games at the beginning of the season.
Once again, within a few weeks of shaking off the rust, Gronkowski was shredding opposing defenses. However, his 2013 season ended as a hit by Cleveland safety T.J. Ward blew out his knee. With Gronkowski going on injured reserve, the Patriots’ Super Bowl chances evaporated.
Gronkowski was slow to get up to speed in 2014 but by week five against Cincinnati he seemed to turn the corner. By the end of the season he had ascended to the top of the pack at the position by almost any metric. Pro-Football-Focus.com (subscription required) rated Gronkowsk as tops at his position with 2.53 yards per route run.
No one in New England wants to imagine another season ended by a Gronkowski injury. He was hurt in the third quarter of the AFC Championship after the 2011 season and was a decoy in the Super Bowl loss to the Giants. He was injured for almost all of the 2012 postseason after re-breaking his forearm against Houston when the Patriots lost in the AFC Championship rematch against Baltimore. In 2013, he was on injured reserve as the team fell to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game.
When healthy, Gronkowski is one of the most dominant offensive players in the NFL, not just at the tight end position. For the Patriots to get through the season with a top spot and into the Super Bowl, they need a healthy Gronkowski for the entire season and through the playoffs.
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