The Patriots were able to overcome a 10-point fourth quarter deficit against the Jacksonville Jaguars yesterday without tight end Rob Gronkowski to advance to Super Bowl LII.
Will they have the four-time First Team All-Pro available when they take the field in Minneapolis in less than two weeks?
Gronkowski is in the league’s concussion protocol thanks to a hit he took from Jacksonville safety Barry Church in the second quarter of the AFC Championship Game. The play was a net 15-yard gain for New England, as Church was flagged for a personal foul penalty.
But Gronkowski didn’t return for the second half, leaving Tom Brady without his favorite target in the passing game.
Dr. Robert Cantu, of the Cantu Concussion Center, is a concussion expert who helped write the NFL concussion protocol and he says of those with a concussion, “the majority will recover in within usually two weeks. That’s why, most probably, Gronk will be back for the Super Bowl.”
According to Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald, there is optimism Gronkowski will be cleared in time to take on the Philadelphia Eagles. No further update has been given by the Patriots since Gronkowski was ruled out for the game in the third quarter on Sunday.
“We missed Rob,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said this afternoon to the Dale, Holley & Keefe program on WEEI. “Hopefully, he’ll be OK.”
Gronkowski had only one catch on three targets for 21 yards prior to exiting the contest.
Dwayne Allen was the only other tight end on the active roster for New England yesterday; for the first time since Week 1, Jacob Hollister was inactive and did not dress. Allen was not targeted once in the passing game on 39 snaps played.
“Yeah, I mean, you have to make some adjustments,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said of Gronkowski’s absence. “We always go into the game with a certain idea of how we want to try to play it. It certainly doesn’t always play out the way that you wanted it to or that you had hoped to or designed it to, but that happens in every game.”
After missing eight games in 2016, as well as the entire postseason, it was a relative return to health in 2017 for Gronkowski. He missed only one game due to injury this season, on a short week no less. New England’s Week 5 game in Tampa Bay was on a Thursday night, prompting the team to play it cautious with Gronk and a thigh injury he was nursing.
Gronkowski’s injury history is well-documented, especially in this piece by ESPN’s Mike Reiss. Through all of the ailments he’s suffered, however, a concussion is yet to result in him missing a game.
“It’s none of my business, I just keep doing my job and do what I can do,” Nate Solder said in the locker room this afternoon in regards to Gronkowski’s concussion.
In order to resume football activities, Gronkowski must be cleared via the NFL’s concussion protocol. This involves a five-step process that involves clearance from both a team physician and an independent neurological consultant, according to ESPN.
The five steps are:
1. Rest and recovery
2. Light aerobic exercise
3. Continued aerobic exercise/strength training
4. Football specific activities
5. Full football activity/clearance
Should Gronkowski successfully clear the protocol, there’s no reason to think he won’t be ready to roll for Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4.
Gronkowski was hobbled by an ankle sprain in the first Super Bowl appearance of his career, Super Bowl XLVI against the New York Giants. The Patriots lost that game, 21-17, as Gronkowski had only two catches for 26 yards.
In Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks, a full-strength Gronkowski had six catches for 68 yards and a touchdown.