On a pass play down the sidelines that Rob Gronkowski has run hundreds of times in his short career, a brutal hit by a Cleveland Browns safety ended the New England Patriot’s 2013 campaign and raised serious concerns about his future. In a season already shortened due to the lingering effects of a forearm injury and subsequent surgeries, the star tight end now faces another off-season filled with rehab work with no guarantees of ever getting back to his All-Pro form.
Gronk suffered a torn right ACL and MCL on the play and was unable to walk off the field on his own power. In addition, the violent play may have left Gronkowski with a concussion, yet another injury for one of the league’s preeminent tight ends to endure. ACL injuries usually take between 9 and 12 months to fully heal, provided no setbacks occur, leaving Gronk’s status for the opening week of 2014 far from certain.
Gronkowski has accumulated an unfortunate level of experience in dealing with injuries of all different types. This past offseason he dealt with two forearm surgeries as well as surgery on his back, all of which came on the heels of earlier injury problems. He broke his forearm late in the 2012 season and sat out a few games before re-breaking the arm in the Patriots’ playoff game against the Houston Texans. Gronk also missed his entire 2009 college season at Arizona with back problems that required surgery. Obviously, he is accustomed to working his way back from injuries, but these latest knee problems raise questions about just how much pounding the human body can take, even if it is the massive 6’6″ frame of a premier NFL tight end.
After Gronkowski went down against the Browns, the Patriots still managed to squeak out the victory, bolstering their playoff prospects. Regardless, the win came at a high cost. Without Gronkowski, New England faces a postseason with limited pass-catching options. Tom Brady can work magic when he has the time to throw, but he needs to have a few receivers who can make plays. Rookie Kenbrell Tompkins has been inconsistent at best on the outside, and slot men Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, though serviceable receivers in the seams, have not made New England’s fans forget about slot wizard Wes Welker. Brady will miss Gronk the most on those third and seven possessions deep in their own territory when he needs a huge, powerful and reliable target to keep a drive alive.
With rising Atlanta Falcons star Julio Jones already lost to injured reserve for the season, Gronk’s injury means yet another marquee pass-catcher in the NFL is out of the spotlight. These types of injuries likely mean a whole new round of scrutiny from the skeptics who think the NFL is unsafe. Regardless of the public outcry, the NFL, a league rooted in the “next man up” philosophy, will continue to thrive and another elite athlete will step up to share the limelight and further cement the NFL’s status as the premier professional sport in this country.