“There goes the season”, unfortunately that is a statement New England Patriot fans have had to utter more than they would ever thought possible. What can bring forth such dismay in the New England fan base that they are willing to conclude that their chance at a Championship is all but gone? The Patriots have possibly the greatest Quarterback to ever play the game, along with a head coach that has a thirst for winning like no other. Yet, over the past six years it’s been the occasional loss of Superstar Tight End, Rob Gronkowski which has thrown a virtual javelin into the heart of Patriot nation.
Gronkowski was drafted by the Patriots with the 42nd pick in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft. At the time, although thought of highly by draft pundits, Gronkowski’s stock dropped considerably due to a 2009 back surgery. The Patriots were already three time Super Bowl Champions and consistent playoff front runners who already had a 16-0 season in their rear view mirror. So how is it possible that a man who had no previous involvement in the first half of Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots masterpiece and had been passed over by all NFL teams (including the Patriots) became the lynch pin for post season success? Rob Gronkowski is not only exceptionally good at his position but is a match up nightmare for most teams that play the Patriots.
Standing at 6’6’’ and roughly 258lbs, Gronkowski traditionally takes up two defenders and is widely considered a severe red zone threat. Having considerable chemistry with a future Hall of Fame quarterback like Tom Brady no doubt helps Gronkowski flourish, but one would imagine that the star tight end would be successful no matter where he plays. Gronkowski’s mere presence on the Patriot’s offense allows Brady’s other weapons such as Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Brandon Lafell a chance to run their routes with success due to the attention the tight end receives. With his sheer size and solid catching ability, Brady only has to throw a capable pass in Gronkowski’s vicinity and more often than not he will come down with it. When running backs such as Dion Lewis, LaGarrette Blount and James White need to work their magic, Gronkowski blocks better than most linemen, giving the backs every opportunity for success. The level of trust that Tom Brady admittedly has in Rob Gronkowski cannot be underplayed or undervalued.
The reason why so many Patriot fans were ready to throw away the entire 2015 season a few weeks back in Denver is quite simple, Gronkowski is THAT much of a difference maker. In 2011 during Gronkowski’s second season, the Patriots were riding an impressive offense with the likes of Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez as their Tight End double threat. During an AFC Championship win against the Baltimore Ravens, Gronkowski suffered a high ankle sprain on a tackle by Ravens safety Bernard Pollard. Granted Gronkowski still played in the Super Bowl loss but was merely a decoy for the Giants, as Rob was too injured to be effective. In 2012 during a week 11 game against the Indianapolis Colts the star tight end broke his left forearm in the fourth quarter during an extra point attempt. Rob was able to return later that season during week 15 but reinjured his arm in a divisional playoff win against the Houston Texans ending his season. The Patriots would fail to beat the Ravens in the AFC Championship the following week.
In the 2013 season, Gronkowski spent the first six weeks healing from forearm and back surgery he had done before the season. Once Gronkowski returned to the field in week 7, a Patriots offense filled with mostly new players began to hit its stride. Sadly in week 14, Cleveland Brown strong safety TJ Ward tackled Gronkowski tearing his ACL and MCL in his right knee. The Patriots limped to the AFC Championship ultimately losing to the Denver Broncos. In 2014 Rob Gronkowski stayed healthy the entire season and despite a slow start, by week 5 Gronkowski looked like his old self again as he helped lead the New England Patriots to their 4th Super Bowl victory in fourteen years.
It’s very easy to see why New Englanders and Patriot fans around the globe held their collective breaths as Rob Gronkowski writhed in pain during the week 12 game against the Denver Broncos. Post season success seems to hinge on Gronkowski’s availability and as noted his track record isn’t wonderful. Thankfully, the star tight end only suffered a very painful bone bruise, but the image on the field was horribly to vivid and familiar.
After an unexpected return last week, many a Patriot fan watched their team battle the Houston Texans, cringing every time Gronkowski was tackled. As much as fans love seeing “The Gronk” plow through the competition, injuries of yester year will always be front in center. If Patriot Nation had it their way, Gronkowski would no doubt be cloaked in bubble wrap until the playoffs were upon them.