Tight end Rob Gronkowski has only been in the NFL for three seasons, but his impact on the New England Patriots franchise history books has already been felt. Record-setting regular season touchdown totals are nice for the resume, however Super Bowl rings go a lot further, and one can argue that when it comes down to crunch time, Gronk has done nothing to help add any rings of bling to the fingers of his teammates or any meaningful, shiny hardware to the trophy cases in The Hall at Patriot Place.
On Tuesday, the 24-year-old happy-go-lucky tight end underwent back surgery to repair a disc issue. This is unrelated to the disc surgery he had in 2009 as a University of Arizona standout. The clock now starts ticking… he has just 83 days to recover before the Pats open their season September 8th near Gronkowski’s hometown against the Bills. Missing regular season games is one thing, but if you look back at Gronk’s history with the injury bug, that bug has bitten him in the most inopportune times so far in his pro career. Two seasons ago, when Gronk had a regular season for the ages, he fell victim to a high ankle sprain in the AFC Championship Game, thanks to a tackle by Pats’ #1 villain Bernard Pollard. The injury would render the hulking tight end largely ineffective come time for Super Bowl XLVI against the Giants, a game the Pats lost by just 4 points. A game that in the final seconds, maybe could have been won, if Gronk was able to catch the final end zone pass from Tom Brady. Days later, Gronk required surgery to repair strained ligaments in that ankle.
Last season, Gronk’s shaky health history reared its ugly head once again. Late in a 59-24 rout over the Indianapolis Colts in Week 11, Gronkowski broke his left forearm. This break would sideline him for the next five games down the stretch, returning in the final week to catch a touchdown against the Dolphins. Here comes playoff time though, and here comes another setback for #87, as Gronk re-breaks the forearm in the first quarter of the Pats’ first playoff tilt against the Texans. That arm snap would wipe Gronk off the roster for good, and while New England got past Houston with relative ease, the Pats would fall in the following week to Baltimore, in a game that certainly could have at least been more competitive with a healthy Gronkowski in the middle of the field catching passes.
So whether you put 1% or 100% of the blame on Rob Gronkowski for New England’s last two playoff flameouts, the fact remains that at least a slice of the blame pie belongs on Gronk’s plate. Are his recent injuries fluky in nature? Maybe. But the bottom line is, players can’t contribute to the team’s success from the sideline or from the operating table. The Patriots have had a fourth Super Bowl win elude the franchise for too long now, and fans have to believe that if Gronkowski was able to perform at a high level over the past two postseasons, a fourth ring would have, and should have, been a reality.
Now, with 2013’s season upon us, Gronk’s health is again in question. Maybe he’ll be all well and good by playoff time this time around, but if Gronkowski is forced to miss the first six games of the season while he sits on the PUP list, will early losses cost the Patriots a first-round bye? Potentially, yes. Could a fourth Super Bowl ring avoid coming to Foxboro yet again, because #87 hasn’t been able to stay on the field? Potentially, you betcha. The upcoming season already has enough question marks revolving around this roster, especially with the departure of Wes Welker. Those of us with high hopes for the team in 2013 may have those hopes hanging on the question mark that is Rob Gronkowski’s forearm, and the ability of the big man to stay on the field when it matters most.