FOXBORO -- Since June, Rob Gronkowski’s had a torn pectoral muscle, a torn hamstring, a lacerated lung and now he’s got a ruptured disk that will send him to surgery and end his 2016 season.
The Patriots got about 45 days of healthy Gronk this season.
Think about it. The team didn’t even bother to start using him in earnest until Week 5. The hamstring kept him down for the first two games. He got thrown to three times and made one catch in Weeks 3 and 4.
And then? And then he had 473 yards on 21 catches with three touchdowns over the next four games. In Week 10, after the organ-jumbling hit against Seattle, he was – for him – limited. He still caught a 26-yarder over his shoulder with 1:19 left in the game to set the Patriots up with a shot at the end zone at the buzzer.
And now he’s gone. Again.
They are the two sides to this rare, valuable coin.
Upside? A transcendent player who’s simultaneously a throwback and a prototype. A player compiling receiving stats that are on pace to dwarf the pseudo-wideout tight ends that from the 1990s and 2000s -- Shannon Sharpe, Antonio Gates -- while still blocking like a 32-catch-a-year bulldozer from the 60s and 70s. A player who came along at just the right time in Tom Brady’s career so that Brady could cement his place in NFL history and Gronk could get dragged into the record books alongside him.
Downside? A player you watch with your heart in your throat. Not only because you know his size mandates that defenders hit him at vulnerable times and in vulnerable spots. Not only because of the importance to the local entry in the professional football league. But also because -- even with the trappings of manufactured celebrity dripping from him and the overt Gronkian money grabs made on his half -- he’s as authentic and devoid of pretense as any star athlete we’ve ever had in this region.
You feel badly for him because, at 27, his body is breaking down. He’s had nine surgeries since 2009. This is the third time his back’s been opened up. He’s going to spend another offseason coming back from a significant injury which he also did after 2011 (ankle), 2012 (forearm, back) and 2013 (ACL).
The respite he got after 2015 was -- as I mentioned earlier -- broken by the torn pec. If Gronk can’t stem the injury tide -- and it might be time for a little less lifting and a lot more flexibility with Brady’s guy Alex Guerrero -- never mind the Patriots re-signing him when his contract is up, it’s a coin flip for him to even get there.
Which won’t allay any of the Gronkowski family’s concerns about the long-term health and financial prospects of their fourth born son.
Or quell Patriot concerns that -- even though they love and appreciate the kid -- the management of Gronk’s health, the size of his contract and the care-and-feeding of the Gronktourage all in exchange for moments of transcendent football is something they’ll have to weigh carefully.
Think about it, before Thursday, there was already a line of thought that the Patriots f***** Gronk by playing him on Sunday in New York.
And that was before Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News reported categorically that Gronk suffered “a ruptured disk” against Seattle.
If Gronk did indeed have the ruptured disk before the Jets game, that would mean the Patriots either missed the injury or that Gronk and the team -- understanding that he had a ruptured disk -- let him practice and play.
That report likely led to the team and Gronkowski’s player releasing a statement Thursday night that clarified the timeline in much finer detail than the team ever would.
During the Seattle game on November 13, Rob sustained a hit to the chest that resulted in a pulmonary contusion to his lung. Rob was examined by several specialists at Massachusetts General Hospital as directed by the team, as well as an independent physician. He received medical clearance to return to play two weeks later for the New York Jets game on November 27. After a hit early in the Jets game, Rob began to experience significant back and leg pain. This injury forced him to leave the game and he did not return. With the help of the Patriots medical staff, along with the consultation of several medical experts, it has been determined that it is in Rob’s best long-term interest to undergo surgery to address his lower back injury. Rob is expected to have surgery tomorrow. We do not expect that he will be able to play for the remainder of the 2016 season, but will await the results of tomorrow’s surgery before making a final determination. Rob has always been one of our hardest workers and was voted captain for the leadership he provides on our team. We are deeply saddened any time a player is lost to injury. We are committed to assisting Rob throughout his recovery and look forward to his return to playing football for the New England Patriots.
Twice in two years the Patriots have had to release a statement regarding an injury. It comes as a result of the post-injury speculation and blame-laying that comes when he goes down. It dates back to 2012 when Gronk came back from his broken arm for a playoff game against the Texans and then broke the arm the first time he landed on it. That incident -- and the ensuing months of infections, surgeries, rehabs and treatment -- turned Gronk injuries into events.
And so they remain.
With Gronk, the Patriots have taken the good -- brilliant play and a inimitable character that’s beloved -- with the bad -- injuries and a level of attention that rivals that of their Hall of Fame quarterback.
Gronk’s 2016 season is over. The speculation surrounding his recovery and future in the NFL and with the Patriots is just beginning.