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How Gronkowski’s injury affects the Pats, the playoffs and the TE’s future

Gronkowski has dealt with a fractured forearm, infections in that arm and a torn ACL during his pro career, but his back has always loomed as the long-term problem. Gronkowski underwent his second “minor, preventative” back surgery in June 2013 amid reports that he would be back in time for Week 1. He didn’t return until Week 7, a little more than four months after the surgery. Gronkowski had 114 yards against the Jets in his return, but seven weeks later, the torn ACL ended his season. He wasn’t his old self until Week 5 of the following year, the famous “We’re on to Cincinnati” blowout win over the Bengals that started New England’s run to their most recent Super Bowl victory.
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It’s impossible to predict the timetable for Gronkowski’s recovery or whether he’ll be able to return to his previous level of play. What we can note, though, is that building an offense through tight ends is a tough way to make a living. Before the 2012 season, I conducted research on Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, noting how tight ends were more susceptible to injury and had shorter careers than similarly gifted wide receivers.

Kelvin Hayden Mens Jersey The place where the Patriots will miss Gronkowski most, of course, is in the red zone. Research I conducted before the season suggests Gronk was the best red zone weapon in football on a per-play basis going back through 2006. You’ve seen Gronk play. You don’t need me to tell you he is good in the red zone. The Patriots have actually not been notably great in the red zone this year; they’re third in offensive DVOA but just 12th in points per red zone trip, a number that isn’t likely to drastically improve without Gronkowski around.

Another “kowski” looms larger than usual now. If the Patriots do struggle in and around the red zone, it will be critical for Stephen Gostkowski to make sure their drives end in successful field goals and extra points, and he has struggled mightily this season. Gostkowski already has failed on three extra points this season and has missed more field goal attempts in 11 games in 2016 (four) than he had in any of the three previous seasons (three or fewer). The normally reliable Gostkowski has been the 12th-worst kicker in the league this year on scoring plays. With Gronkowski gone, they need the old Gostkowski back.

Now the Pats are one aggravated ankle from an empty cupboard at tight end. They traded A.J. Derby to the Broncos for a fifth-round pick in October, a move that seemed smart at the time but has now gone sour for reasons the Patriots could not have realistically projected. The only other tight end on the roster is former Northeastern product Matt Lengel, who has six career snaps to his name. There are no real options on the waiver wire either, with Scott Chandler out after undergoing offseason knee surgery. The only logical fit might be Zach Sudfeld, who was last with the team in 2013.