It hasn’t exactly been a comfortable 2016 for the New England Patriots.
Their quest for back-to-back Super Bowl victories hit a rocky roadblock in the form of Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
Tom Brady is still fighting what seems like a losing battle with the NFL over the ‘Deflategate’ scandal - a furore that has been tarnishing the Patriots global image for well over a year now.
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Brady is likely to miss the opening four matches of this year’s up and coming NFL season, with Belichick's opening encounter coming away at the Arizona Cardinals. Big shoes for backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to fill - considering the third year pro out of Eastern Illinois has yet to even start an NFL game since being drafted.
But if the Patriots can take comfort in anything is that there will be a more than competent pair of hands available for Garoppolo to toss too.
Rob Gronkowski has been an indispensable part ofBelichick's receiving core. Yes, you can argue that Julian Edelman and even Danny Amendola have been just as, maybe even equally, as effective as Gronk has been. In terms of making the first down yardage, these receivers are the go-to weapons in Brady’s back pocket.
But there has been one standout player that continues to leave opposing defences in ruins.
For the best part of six years, Robert Paxton Gronkowski has been untouchable. The stats don’t lie either- clocking 5,555 receiving yards along with 380 receptions, averaging 14.6 yards per carry which has resulted in the former University of Arizona tight end reaching the end zone an impressive 65 times.
Last season, Rob’s consistency was a key factor in the Patriots impressive run to the AFC Championship game at Mile High. Gronkowski had another standout season at tight end for New England. 1,176 receiving yards to eleven touchdowns, the most for any receiver wearing the blue of Boston.
But with all the success and accolade that Gronk brings to the table for New England- there is that one niggling problem that persists on being the biggest party pooper in all of New England.
You see ever since his college days, Gronkowski has suffered and recovered through his fair share of injury woes.
Whether it be a back sprain that sidelined him for the most part of his final days at Arizona, or the ACL tear on his right knee that ended his season in 2013, Gronkowski’s body has taken an all-mighty beating during his time in professional football.
Ankle ligament strains, broken forearms and fractured vertebras are just a small collective of contusions which has placed Gronk on that illimitable IR list that plagues even the most colossal of team such as the Patriots.
And despite as Herculean a frame that Gronkowski possesses, it’s no longer astonishing to anyone that the man is injury prone.
Last season’s regular season defeat at the hands of Denver Bronco took the steam out of the Patriots Super Bowl train whilst also placing the hearts of millions of Pats fans firmly in their mouths.
A low hit to Gronk’s reconstructed right knee by Darian Stewart meant the tight end was grounded and carted off immediately. He was then placed on the IR list with Coach Belicheck confirming to media that they will see how the tight end does over the following weeks. No time limit on a return. No information on the extent of the injury- subsequently leading to the Pats Nation fearing the worst.
Only missing one game, he returned to relief of adoring fans. Nevertheless despite his ability to regenerate at any given moment, it certainly leaves a lot of unanswered questions. But the biggest one of all, and perhaps the bitter pill to swallow for any Patriots fan, is how long has Gronkowski got left?
It’s a question that many ponder, and something that in all likelihood will be retorted very soon in one way, shape or form. NFL careers are not built to last for decades - that’s no riddle that requires solving.
But with a history of injuries that is as long his build, it’ll be a defining year for the record breaking tight end. Stay fit and New England will reap the benefits of having arguably one of the greatest tight ends of all time.
But a return to the doctor’s bench could be the straw that finally breaks the camel’s back and, in this case, ends the career of one of the NFL’s biggest stars.