As the Patriots enter week 6 of the 2013 NFL season the offense is not to thank for the 4-1 start and division lead they are currently enjoying. The defense, led by Aqib Talib and Jerod Mayo, is to thank for the hot start. Let that sink in for a moment.
Tom Brady, one of the most competitive athletes in sports and one of the best quarterbacks of all time, has let his raw emotions surface at many different moments this season. Is it because of his inexperienced wide receiving corps? Is it because the offensive line that has broken down at times this year? Is it because of a running game that has not stepped up to fill the void of a fresh and unproven passing attack? All of these problems can be traced back to one common source.
Rob Gronkowski is a force from the tight end position that has never been seen before in the NFL. He is currently sidelined, dealing with a forearm fracture that occurred last November and led to four surgeries in seven months. Now his return is imminent.
As a pass-catcher only, the New Orleans Saints’ Jimmy Graham is comparable. But it is Gronk’s blocking ability that sets him apart from Graham and others who play the position.
With Gronkowski on the field the Patriots are a completely different team. Michael Hoomanawanui is serviceable, but he is not a Pro Bowl caliber player. In the running game, Gronk is a force. He thrives on contact, and in that sense he is the ultimate football player. When lined up on the line he becomes the sixth offensive lineman, an offensive lineman that is a threat to run up the seam on a play-action pass for a big play.
His presence allows Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Brady to force defenses to bend to their will. When there is no threat of the pass in the middle of the field, defenses can play tighter on the outside receivers. This is something that has been detrimental to the development of these young wide receivers.
Kenbrell Thompkins, a fluid route runner, is not seasoned in the league and he has struggled to cope with the attention paid to him. Aaron Dobson, a receiver in the mold of a classic deep threat, simply can not get the separation necessary when the defense is focusing on the outside receivers.
Gronkowski’s return, whenever it may be, will absorb nearly all of the attention given to these lesser targets. With space to work, the young receivers will begin to grow, and emotional outbursts from Brady will only surface when celebrating another post-touchdown spike from his favorite target.
The Patriots are reaching a critical point with the Gronkowski situation. By going to renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews, it appears both sides have acknowledged that they will not reach an agreement without a third person involved. Patriots team doctor Thomas Gill cleared Gronkowski last month, but Gronkowski’s doctors disagree. It appears that Andrews has been brought in to be the middleman.
Whether or not Gronkowski plays in the game vs. the Saints on Sunday is up in the air. The disconnect between team and player may stem from the new contract that was signed in June of 2012. The Patriots hope to see that six-year, $53 million dollar extension earned now, while Gronkowski’s camp have their eyes on maintaining good help through the 2015 season and the $10 million dollar roster bonus that follows, which will bring them into the 2016 season. This bonus would extend the contract through 2019.
Nobody wins in a situation like this. Only when Gronkowski returns to the field will this be forgotten. The Patriots offense will inch closer to the well oiled machine of years past, Brady’s days of yelling at ghosts will be long gone, and Gronkowski will be spiking footballs into orbit once again. The contract he signed was well deserved, it is a common misconception that he is injury prone. He is simply a player who puts it all on the line, every snap, and sometimes it comes back to haunt him.
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