New England Patriots Pro Bowl tight end Aaron Hernandez has been one of the best in the game at that position but has been overshadowed over the past two years by teammate Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski followed his 2011 record breaking season by continuing that pace in 2012 only to be derailed by a broken forearm. With Gronkowski out on Sunday, Hernandez has an opportunity to receive the spotlight for himself.
In 2011 Gronkowski became a superstar for the Patriots tight end focused passing game recording 90 receptions for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns. Because of this production, the Patriots had another tight end who became a less noticed superstar from the same draft. Hernandez also had a stellar 2011 season recording 79 receptions for 910 yards and 7 touchdowns in just 14 games. Those statistics placed him in the top six of each category among tight ends.
This season both Hernandez and Gronkowski dealt with injuries, which kept them out for an extended period of time. Hernandez injured his ankle in the team’s week two loss to the Arizona Cardinals which kept him out for the following three weeks. After returning for two games he missed the following three games or four weeks.
While Hernandez was out, Gronkowski flourished until he suffered an injury of his own. Near the end of the team’s week 11 matchup with the Indianapolis Colts, Gronkowski broke his forearm during the team’s final extra point attempt. The injury kept him out for the following five games allowing him to return only for the team’s final regular season contest against the Miami Dolphins.
With a Houston Texans loss and a Patriots win on the final day of the season, the Patriots secured the second seed earning a much needed bye week. That helped the Patriots regain full strength which included both star tight ends being able to play in the divisional round against the Texans.
In just the first drive of the game for the Patriots offense, Tom Brady threw a long pass for Gronkowski which sailed out of bounds. As Gronkowski dove in an attempt to make the play, he fell on his recently injured forearm, re-breaking it. The injury forced Gronkowski out for the remainder of the postseason.
While a tough break for Gronkowski, the injury gives an opportunity for Hernandez. Unless a player had a historic regular season, those number are largely forgotten. It’s the postseason where players can become superstars. Over the past two seasons, the Patriots have relied largely on their two tight ends. With Gronkowski out of Sunday’s AFC championship game against the Baltimore Ravens, Hernandez has an opportunity to see his name in lights instead of his teammates.
No player wants to see a teammate injured. In 2001, Brady didn’t want to see Drew Bledsoe go down either but when that happens, it gives another player an opportunity to rise up. Gronkowski has become a national star over the past two years, and Hernandez has been largely overshadowed due to being on the same team. But in Sunday’s AFC championship game, the third year tight end has an opportunity to shine on the national stage all by himself.