After reportedly suffering an ACL tear in the New England Patriots 27-26 once-again-come-from-behind win over the Cleveland Browns Sunday, the Patriots have now lost Rob Gronkowski for the season. It marks the third time in three seasons that arguably the most feared tight end in the NFL has accrued an injury with meaningful games left in a title chase. However, I have a solution that will almost certainly allow for Gronkowski to be available at full strength when the Patriots need him most: play him strictly in the playoffs.
That is right. Gronkowski should never play one snap in the regular season.
We all remember how Gronkowski rolled his ankle in the 2011 AFC Championship game win over the Baltimore Ravens when tackled awkwardly by Patriots villain Bernard Pollard. He played in Super Bowl XLVI two weeks later, but clearly was not 100 percent and needed surgery in the offseason.
And we all remember when the tight end broke his left forearm in a Week 11 rout of the Indianapolis Colts in 2012, missed the rest of regular season and reinjured the same arm almost immediately when he came back in the divisional round win over the Houston Texans. Once again, the Patriots’ offense faltered without the physical force that is Rob Gronkowski in the 28-13 AFC championship game loss to Baltimore.
The latest injury along with a string of back injuries kept Gronkowski out this year, and boy was the Patriots’ offense awful those first six weeks without the All-Pro. The team averaged only 20.9 points a game compared to the 32.0 since his return. He was bound to get his 6-foot-6, 265-pound frame injured again because he just takes too much punishment. I thought he busted his ankle again earlier in the game on a 12-yard gain, but instead just went to adjust his sock. Breaths were held on that first quarter grab, but not for long as Browns safety T.J. Ward knocked down Gronkowski midway through the third with a rough hit to the knee.
Now Tom Brady and the rest of the offense will once again be equipped without his favorite target for the rest of the season. Injuries have already affected the offense as Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Tompkins have gotten injured the last few weeks. Without Gronkowski, the Patriots have just 12 catches by tight ends on the roster (10 by the injured Michael Hoomanawanui).
To keep Gronkowski — who signed a six-year, $54 million deal in 2012 that will keep him in Foxborough until 2019 — healthy when you need him most, Gronkowski only needs to play in the playoffs. Exceptions can be made in the future, like if the Patriots need a few wins down the stretch to reach the postseason, but other than that, keep Gronk on the sidelines.
Somehow the Patriots won a higher percentage of games with Gronkowski not in the lineup this year (5-1 without compared to 5-2 with) and with the AFC East consistently being one of the worst divisions in the NFL, expect New England to win the division for the foreseeable future. The only thing is that when the Patriots translate to the postseason without one of New England’s most beloved players fully healthy, the team cannot win.
Who cares if the team is not as exciting to watch in the regular season? And who cares if Robert Kraft has to pay the tight end for just three or four games in the season? In the NFL, it is all about the postseason, and that is where Rob Gronkowski needs to be at full strength.