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Rob Gronkowski playing through significant pain

New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills

ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 30: Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots celebrates scoring a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on September 30, 2012 in Orchard Park, New York.New England won 52-28. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

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Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has started all four games this year and played fairly well, but his numbers are down from his great 2011 season, and injuries may be the reason.

Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com reports that Gronkowski, who has been listed on the injury report with a hip problem, is playing through significant pain.

Reiss suspects that the Patriots are actually more concerned about Gronkowski’s long-term health than about the health of tight end Aaron Hernandez, who has missed two games with an ankle injury.

The Patriots cut down on Gronkowski’s playing time last week against the Bills, presumably because he’s at less than 100 percent, and he has been limited in practice as well. Still, Gronkowski managed to five passes for 104 yards and a touchdown, so Gronkowski at less than 100 percent is still one of the best tight ends in the NFL.