There was already speculation that Gronkowski might miss the remainder of 2016 after NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that he’d be out for “several weeks.” Now, with the 27-year-old being placed on IR, it’s confirmed that he won’t play.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 1, 2016
Players on IR must sit out a minimum of eight weeks, and each team can only bring one player back onto the roster. The Patriots have already used their IR-designation to return backup QB Jacoby Brissett to the roster.
The “worse than anticipated” injury is a herniated disk — the same injury that Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt suffered in the offseason. Watt beat the recovery timetable of 8 weeks that he was given. But he only lasted 3 games this year before re-aggravating the injury. Even when Watt played, he didn’t look like the same dominant defensive presence that he’s been in previous seasons.
The Patriots could’ve waited to see if Gronkowski would also make an 8-week recovery, thus making him ready by the AFC Championship game. However, given what Watt experienced, it’s doubtful that the 6’6″ tight end would’ve been in peak form.
Even if the Patriots wanted to give it a try, they’d need to waste roster space on an injured Gronkowski when there’s a chance that he still couldn’t suit up. There’s also the fact that New England has a weaker chance of making the AFC Championship game without Tom Brady’s favorite target.
The defining blow was when Gronkoswki left last Sunday’s game against the New York Jets after injuring his back. However, he hasn’t been the same ever since taking a viscous hit from Seattle Seahawk’s safety Earl Thomas in Week 10. Although Gronkowski was cleared to play the Jets in Week 12, he didn’t last long and exited without making any catches.
Another medical evaluation revealed that damage from the Thomas hit was worse than anybody expected.
The year started out rough for Gronkowski since he missed the beginning of the season with a hamstring injury. When he returned in Weeks 3 and 4, he caught just one pass for 11 yards with Jimmy Garoppolo under center.
When Brady came back, Gronkowski quickly returned to being the star that everybody has come to expect, catching 5 passes for 109 yards in Week 5. Up to the injury he suffered from the Thomas hit in Week 10, Gronkowski compiled 540 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns on 25 catches. His 21.6 YPC leads the NFL, which is rare for a tight end and shows the unique talent that Gronkowski is.
New England promoted running back D.J. Foster from the practice squad to the 53-man roster to replace Gronkowski.
Can the Patriots Still Make the Super Bowl?
As mentioned above, there’s no replacing Gronkowski or the production he brings. But the good news for New England is that the cupboard isn’t totally bare at tight end.
They still have a healthy Martellus Bennett, who has 540 yards and 4 touchdowns on 42 catches this season. His best numbers came with Brady out, when he tallied 114 receiving yards in Week 2 and 109 yards in Week 4.
Julian Edelman will also see an uptick in targets. He currently leads the team with 617 yards on 64 catches. WR Chris Hogan (462 yards), RB James White (375), and Malcolm Mitchell (235 yards) also need to step up in Gronkowski’s absence.
As for whether this combination is enough weapons to help Brady lead this team to a Super Bowl remains to be seen.
They’re currently 9-2, which ties them with Oakland for the AFC’s best record. However, the Raiders own the tiebreaker, which would give them home field if the two teams met in the AFC Championship.
Speaking of which, the Patriots are in line for a first-round bye with 5 games to go. If they remain in this position, they’d only have to win one game to advance to the conference championship game.
Again, Gronkowski can’t be replaced and his absence definitely hurts this team. But given their record, and proven winners in Brady and coach Bill Belichick, you can never count New England out of a Super Bowl run.