Posted September 17, 2013

Rob Gronkowski reportedly ’50-50′ for Week 3, but should Patriots risk it?

AFC East, New England Patriots
The Patriots greatly miss Rob Gronkowski's skill as a receiver and blocker.

The Patriots greatly miss Rob Gronkowski’s skill as a receiver and blocker. (David Bergman/SI)

The Patriots’ need for a healthy Rob Gronkowski back in the lineup was never more apparent than last Thursday. Tom Brady spent that evening watching passes ricochet off the hands of his receivers, leaving the QB visibly exasperated.

Brady may have his favorite target back soon, according to ESPN’s Ed Werder, who reported that Gronkowski is “50-50″ to play against the Buccaneers in Week 3. But would it make more sense for New England to make Gronkowski wait until Week 4?

That’s something the Patriots’ coaching staff surely will discuss in the coming days, with Gronkowski inching closer to a return. Gronkowski, who has 38 touchdown receptions in 43 career games, rejoined practice a couple of weeks ago following a difficult offseason dealing with an injury to his back and complications in his previously-injured wrist. While he was sitting out in Weeks 1 and 2, the Patriots also lost receiver Danny Amendola for the immediate future.

The Gronk- and Amendola-less Patriots passing attack almost completely stalled out during a 13-10 rain-soaked win over the Jets. Brady finished that game with just 185 yards passing, his lowest total since posting 198 in a 2011 loss to Pittsburgh. Brady targeted Amendola’s replacement, Julian Edelman, 18 times — almost half of the 37 passes Brady attempted.

The run game also struggled against the Jets’ tough D, with Stevan Ridley being held to 40 yards on 16 carries.

Gronkowski, an outstanding blocker in addition to his pass-catching abilities, would bring some life to all facets of the New England offense. His return definitely ought to provide an emotional boost, too, given how scattered the last few months have been for the Patriots offense, on and off the field.

The question is: Do they need Gronk to get by an 0-2 Bucs team this Sunday? If not, then there’s really no reason to roll the dice.

On deck after that meeting with Tampa Bay are trips to Atlanta and Cincinnati, a home game with New Orleans and a rematch with the Jets. The Buccaneers’ defense will test Brady’s offense, with or without Gronkowski — it did so against Drew Brees in Week 2, limiting the Saints to 16 points. But the Patriots need Gronkowski far less Sunday than they will come December and January.

The dynamic of the Patriots’ offense completely changes when Gronkowski is present. (The same went for Aaron Hernandez, before his unceremonious fall from grace.) Not only is Gronkowski a matchup nightmare and Brady’s most trusted receiver, he graded out as the team’s No. 2 run blocker last season on Pro Football Focus — a testament to his all-around game.

Running Gronkowski back out there early, though, could limit his effectiveness and would put him at risk for further injury. The Patriots believe the issues with Gronkowski’s fractured and then infected forearm are in the past, but he has had back issues on multiple occasions now, having missed an entire college season due to that nagging problem.

The Patriots do not need to rest Gronkowski until the playoffs or keep him inactive if he is 100 percent ready to go. But if there is any question at all about throwing him back on the field, New England would be wise to err on the side of caution. Ugly as it may be, this team is capable of surviving against Tampa Bay without its top tight end. And having a healthy Gronk when the calendar flips to 2014 would be preferable to seeing him play on Sunday.

12 comments
joe6647
joe6647

Gronk wont be playing Sunday.  Bill Belichick will list Gronk as questionable on the injury report (again) so that teams have to game plan for him, but he will end up being inactive for Sunday

EmmaJAc35549609
EmmaJAc35549609

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Matthew W
Matthew W

Gronk at 50% is still better than anything else on the roster they can throw out there. 


BB had a terrible off season...he has no receivers at all. The passing game has glossed over the fact that they've had no running game in years....now they have nothing at all.

Robert27
Robert27

The thing is, it'll be pins and needles for Kraft, Belichick and fans whenever they decide to bring him back, be it Sunday or week 6. Truth is his forearm has been mending for 30+ weeks now. And the 12th week of the 10-12 week post-back surgery rehab scenario was Week 1. He's probably about as far along as he needs to be.

MichaelMcNally
MichaelMcNally

@Matthew W  No running game in years? The Pats ranked 7th in rushing last year. 10th in 2011. Check your stats before you post.

whitezb1974
whitezb1974

@Matthew W Yes, there were some dumb movies (letting Woodhead go and that half-assed attempt at signing Sanders from Steelers), but this team would probably look completely different (and probably be winning more convincingly) if Hernandez wasn't sitting in prison.  That was completely unexpected, and you cannot really blame the Pats for that.

pmccnn
pmccnn

@whitezb1974 @Matthew W Danny Woodhead? Danny's a great guy and he was a good compliment to the offense but he's hardly a significant loss for the Patriots. He was what, their third or fourth back on the depth chart.? Not having any experienced, dependable wideouts is what is killing the Patriots offense, not the loss Danny Woodhead. Also, BB has ten million dollars to spend, what sense does that make? Could have bought a good wide receiver for a couple of those millions.