It’s growing harder and harder to ignore how broken Rob Gronkowski looks, and what that means for the future.
At the height of his greatness, there was no better tight end in NFL history than Rob Gronkowski. Those days appear to be over.
On more than one play Sunday, Gronkowski was noticeably un-Gronk-like. He was held without a catch for only the fourth time in his career, and the fourth time in the last three years. That’s not a commentary on the Patriots offense so much as it’s confirmation that Gronkowski is nearing the end of his Hall of Fame career.
One a throw down the sideline in the first quarter, Gronk was in single coverage against undrafted rookie linebacker Corey Thompson. Old Gronk would have burned past Thompson and made a play for the ball. Instead, he lumbered slowly and pulled up well short of any real attempt to make the catch.
Later in the game, Gronk lined up in the slot on a run play and made a half-hearted effort to make a block while Cordarrelle Patterson sprinted around him. It’s not that he wasn’t interested in blocking, rather it was another example of Gronk being so broken down that he simply doesn’t have the energy to go as hard as he used to.
These examples are exclusive to this game against the Bills but we’ve seen Gronk look painfully unlike himself more than a few times this season. The explosiveness isn’t there like it once was, and the bell is tolling after years of punishing his body.
This indicates another nail in the coffin of New England’s dynasty. It’s not to say this team can’t win another Super Bowl to cap things off, but there is a clear expiration date. Gronk is broken, the roster is aged, Tom Brady isn’t as focused as he has been in the past, and the rest of the AFC has significantly closed the gap.
Nothing illustrates this better than Gronkowski, the Perfect Patriot, collapsing into himself like a dying star.
The end for Gronk has seemed near for a while now. He’s not yet 30-years old and has only missed 25 games in his entire career, but it’s both the types of injuries and how he’s come back from them that has truly taken a toll. Broken bones, torn ligaments, and concussions sandwiched between full seasons of work that gave the illusion he was returning to full health. There’s a reason he seemed suspiciously noncommittal to his football future following a full season of work last year.
Gronkowski missed the first six and last three games of the 2013 season (the latter of which due to a torn ACL) and bounced back to play 15 games in 2014. Last year he played all 16 games following a season in 2016 where he missed eight games due to injury.
He was the Perfect Patriot, a loyal soldier who would be asked to play at 11 but willingly cranked it up so high that he snapped off the knob. It was fun at the height of his greatness, but now we’re getting an ugly look at what paying for the bill looks like.