It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Rob Gronkowski play for longer than a few minutes in an NFL football game.

The last time we saw him for any length of time was back on November 18th of last season, coming up on nearly a year when he caught 7 passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns in a 59-24 over Andrew Luck and the Colts at Gillette Stadium.  After the game news emerged that the tight end had suffered a broken forearm while making a block on New England’s final extra point, and little did we know how big of an impact that injury would ultimately have on him.


It’s been a long time since tight end Rob Gronkowski has played a full NFL game.
(USA TODAY Images)

He came back briefly against the Houston Texans during the postseason but that was fairly short-lived, with Gronkowski lasting all of 7 snaps, the last of which happened on the Patriots’ second offensive series of the game where he landed on his arm on a deep sideline pass that went incomplete.  On the play he landed hard and re-broke his forearm, ending his season.

Since then he’s battled through infections and also underwent offseason back surgery, and all of his rehabilitation now has him finally in position to make a return.  He’s been inching his way back each week and he reportedly practiced on Monday, which according to reporters who were at the stadium, he came into the locker room covered in sweat and was very upbeat, which would lead you to believe everything went well.

The reported timetable the last few weeks seemed to indicate that he’d be back in time for this week’s battle at home against the Buccaneers, although recent reports seemed to indicate there’s a 50/50 shot he would play this weekend.  Michael Whitmer of the Boston Globe reported this morning that the team is leaning toward sitting him this Sunday against the Buccaneers, which would give him a little more time to recover and get himself back into football shape. However, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network believes he “will be playing in week four” against Atlanta.

One thing we do know is they can certainly use him, especially on third down.  Overall this season the Patriots have converted just 15-of-38 3rd down attempts, which is an area that Gronkowski has been critical in recent years.  Last season before getting hurt Gronkowski caught 11 passes on 3rd down, all of which were first downs.  That was the highest total of any remaining Patriots receiver on this roster, with Wes Welker (21) and Aaron Hernandez (10) as the only other two players with double digit receptions.  He also had 3 touchdowns, which was also the highest number out of any other player.  In 2011 Gronkowski had the second highest 3rd down total with 17 receptions, second only to Welker who had 26.  He also had six touchdowns.

That’s a lot of critical production for an offense that is struggling to move the chains.  New England punted the football a staggering 11 times Thursday night, with rookie Ryan Allen tying the franchise record with 514 punting yards during their win over the Jets.  While Ryan may be happy to have gotten his name into the record books, Tom Brady likely wasn’t pleased about it and having Gronkowski back in the line-up is something that will hopefully make this offense a little harder to stop.

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said on Tuesday that getting Gronkowski back would obviously help, and he talked about how his presence would impact their game plan.

“I think any time you have a player that can make the kind of impact that Rob has made in the past, if you have a player like that back, it has to affect your plan and hopefully only in a positive manner,” said McDaniels during a conference call with the media. “I don’t know if it would affect the group that we use or not use or whether we would use a certain tempo or not. I don’t know that that would really be impacted, but I definitely think that you would like to have a guy like that on the field as much as you can if he is ready and able to contribute in the way that Rob has always been able to. ”

Should he see action this weekend, it’s going to be interesting to see how many snaps he’ll play.  After losing him twice in a season last year one would have to believe the Patriots will be extra cautious in their approach to make sure he doesn’t suffer any setbacks.  The broken forearm was one thing, but anytime a player undergoes back surgery it’s always a concern, especially in Gronkowski’s case because of the way he plays.  McDaniels said yesterday that they’re not approaching the game plan with any intent of changing what the veteran has done in the past, although they’ll keep an eye on how comfortable he is once he’s out there.

“I’m not going about it in that manner,” said McDaniels. “Our game plan is going to be set up for the opponent and it’s hopefully going to be set up in such a way that we can take advantage of some opportunities. The ones that are available at the tight end position would certainly have application for Rob if he happened to play, whenever that is.

“The more any player that is coming off of a few games away where he is healing or whatever the case may be, the more they play, the more comfortable they are and the more they are in the game, then the more you can start dictating some of the things you would do with him.”

Now we’ll just have to wait to see when exactly he’ll finally be back in the line-up.

GROGAN STICKS UP FOR DANNY AMENDOLA:

For anyone who followed former Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan, he epitomized the word “toughness”, battling through quite a bit of injuries during his career and earning the respect of both fans and teammates over the course of his tenure here in New England.  In this week’s “Grogan’s Grade” (published this morning) Grogan talked about Danny Amendola, and he feels that it’s a little early to start calling the newly acquired receiver “injury prone.”

“I don’t think that’s fair,” said Grogan when asked about the criticism being directed at Amendola. “I think anybody can pull a groin and he showed me a lot of courage by coming back in and playing in the second half of that Buffalo game after he’d already hurt himself in the first half and didn’t look like he’d be coming back. It might have been a mistake for him to come back in the second half of the Buffalo game because he probably made it worse than it would have been if he’d have just sat out the rest of the game. I never, never fault a guy that will come back in a game and play hurt and help you win a game. You’ve got to win them one at a time, and that’s what he did in Buffalo and it may cost him a few games here now.”

KRAFT REACHES OUT TO FAN BATTLING CANCER:

As we know Patriots owner Robert Kraft lost his wife to cancer, and a note on Reddit pointed out that Kraft recently reached out to another fan who is battling pancreatic cancer, and also sent them his “sweethearts’ “MHK” pin.

The letter read:

“It has been brought to my attention by your niece, Nancy, that you have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. That being said, I wanted to take the liberty of wishing you all the best for continued strength to keep your head high during this challenging time in your life. I hope this correspondence can relay some encouragement to you as well, especially since I have heard that you are an avid New England Patriots fan. Hopefully, we can reciprocate your long-time support of our organization through our thoughts and prayers. I have also enclosed my sweethearts’ “MHK” pin for you to wear in hopes that it will remind you that our organization is wishing you all the best as you fight this battle.

On behalf of myself and the New England Patriots football team, we wish you all the best for good health and happiness. We look forward to your continued dedication this upcoming season!
Sincerely,
Robert K. Kraft”

Hand written at the bottom ‘“We are all Patriots” Our prayers are with you.’

Very touching to say the least.

ON TO THIS MORNING’S LINKS:

BOSTON HERALD:

NOTEBOOK: Rob Gronkowski, Patriots take it easy – Karen Guregian – Guregian files her notebook this morning which leads off with a note on Gronkowski and she writes a league source told the Herald the Patriots are opting for the “conservative” route with their Pro Bowl tight end.

No Surgery for Danny Amendola – Karen Guregian – Guregian reports that Amendola may be back sooner rather than later, and reports the Patriots have decided against surgery.

Vince Wilfork encourages Nathan Hale school kids to follow their dreams - Karen Guregian – Guregian has a good article on a recent stop by Wilfork at the Nathan Hale School in Roxbury.

Patriots defense getting there – Karen Guregian – Guregian writes that after two games, no one wants to overhype or oversell the Patriots defense, but they’re making progress.

BOSTON GLOBE:

NOTEBOOK: Patriots leaning toward sitting Rob Gronkowski – Michael Whitmer – Whitmer reports that Gronkowski is healthy enough to play, but cites a league source who say the Patriots want more practice time for him before suiting him up for a game.

Patriots should give Terrell Owens at least a look - Gary Washburn – Washburn has a bizarre column this morning about the fact he believes the Patriots should at least give Owens a look.  Interestingly enough he doesn’t mention the fact that Brady already did, so needless to say it doesn’t make any sense.

ESPN BOSTON:

What we learned from Patriots coaches’ calls – Mike Reiss – Reiss has notes from the two conference calls for both Josh McDaniels and Matt Partricia, pointing out things we learned from each one.

NESN:

Patriots’ Receivers Aren’t Only Ones With Drop Problems, Ben Tate Is Better Than Arian Foster and Other NFL Thoughts – Luke Hughes – NESN’s Hughes looks at some other players experiencing issues holding onto the football as well as some additional thoughts in this entry.

WEEI:

Why Julian Edelman Has Been the Most Valuable Offensive Option for the Patriots This Season – Christopher Price – Price points out in this article that so far Edelman has accounted for 20 of his team’s 48 completed passes, or 42% of the team’s overall receptions, among some other interesting numbers.

PROVIDENCE JOURNAL:

Pats don’t have that dominant look – Jim Donaldson – Donaldson has a column this morning that leads off with a quote from former Patriots hard-hitting safety Rodney Harrison, who recently said, â€śThe gap in the AFC East has closed.  The Patriots don’t look like the dominant team we’re used to seeing.”

WORCESTER TELEGRAM:

Oh brother, it’s Josh vs. Ben McDaniels on Sunday - Rich Garven – Garven writes that Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will face off against his younger brother Ben, who is in his first season as an offensive assistance with the Buccaneers.

MILFORD DAILY NEWS:

New England Patriot Devin McCourty speaks at Mendon school – Mike Gleason – Good stuff from Gleason who has an article on the visit by McCourty to the Henry Cough Elementary School on Tuesday which saw the veteran defensive back wearing a “milk mustache” while leading a parade of children around the building.