By the time the Patriots kick off with the Jets this weekend, Rob Gronkowski will have had nearly a month off from NFL game action. The assumption is he will be active and available to the Patriots offense, and though his quarterback wouldn't confirm that, he did acknowledge that he's looking forward to getting his tight end back on the field.
Tom Brady joined WEEI's Mut and Callahan show Monday to discuss his teammate's potential impending return.
“We’ll see. I don’t know," Brady said. "We’ll see how it goes, We haven’t even practiced this week. I think he’s itching to get back. He’s a big difference-maker when he’s on the field. I hope he is out there, but we’ll see. It is up to the trainers and coaches and up to Rob to see how he feels. We have practice this week, and we’ll see what we can do.”
Gronkowski has been limited with ankle and back issues for weeks. He last played at Buffalo in Week 8, reeling in three catches for 43 yards. Prior to that, he sat out of his team's Week 7 game and caught three balls in Week 6 against the Chiefs.
Gronkowski last eclipsed three catches against Indy on Oct. 4. He was last in the end zone in Week 1.
If the Patriots can get Gronkowski back on the field, even if he's less than 100 percent, that should start a domino effect that benefits the entire offense.
He's among the team's best run-blockers, which means opposing defenses may need to respect that threat more than they have in recent weeks -- particularly when Gronkowski, Shaq Mason and Sony Michel have been out.
With an improved run game -- or simply the threat of an improved run game -- that should open up the play-action passing game. Gronkowski's presence in the middle of the field should also help draw some coverage away from Julian Edelman, James White or Josh Gordon. He may not be the physically dominating threat he was a year ago when healthy, but he's better than anything the Patriots have had at the position in recent weeks.
The Patriots offense isn't broken. But having Gronkowski available could help them make a few tweaks to a few of the areas that have been issues -- we identified third-and-short passing as one of those issues here -- and could help the unit's overall output for the stretch run.
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