The Patriots went off script Tuesday, going out of their way to publicize injury information about one of their players. Because the player is Rob Gronkowski, that uncharacteristic decision by the Patriots reiterates how unique and valuable he is to a team trying to win consecutive Super Bowls.
Gronkowski was injured late in the fourth quarter of Sunday night’s 30-24 overtime loss in Denver. Gronkowski, hit low by safety Darian Stewart while lunging for an incomplete pass, left the field on a cart and was seen after the game in the locker room, walking without assistance but declining to take any media questions. Almost immediately, reports began to circulate about Gronkowski’s injury — initial diagnosis: Not serious — and how long the standout tight end might be out.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Patriots issued a joint statement with the Gronkowski family.
“During Sunday night’s game, Rob Gronkowski sustained a bone bruise/sprain of his right knee,” the statement read. “His status will be evaluated on a week-to-week basis and listed accordingly on the practice participation and injury reports. There is no timetable for his readiness to return, which will be determined in the days or hours prior to the appropriate game. Any timetable reported prior to that final determination would be speculative.”
Whenever Gronkowski has suffered an injury that has caused him to miss games, the parlor game of “When will he return?” has morphed into a daily and weekly drama. Such is his importance to an offense that has dealt with injuries to key players this season, Gronkowski simply being the latest. The Patriots (10-1) could be without their top four receivers in terms of number of catches — Julian Edelman, Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, and Dion Lewis — when they face the Eagles (4-7) at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.
This marks the third time in four years that Gronkowski has seen a season shortened by injury. He’s dealt with a broken forearm, torn knee ligaments, and back issues, all of which required surgery.
In a video posted online Tuesday, Gronkowski said, “I just want to say thank you to my friends and family and all the fans out there for the support the last two days. I’m thankful that it’s nothing serious . . . I’m just week-to-week. I’ll be working hard to get back out on the field as soon as possible. When I’m 100 percent, feeling good, cleared by all the doctors, the team, that’s when I’ll be back. There’s no timetable for that.”
The first public comment Gronkowski made regarding football since leaving Sunday’s game was a one-word tweet in response to an article suggesting that he is being targeted by referees when it comes to offensive pass interference penalties. “Agree,” Gronkowski tweeted.
Gronkowski has been flagged five times this season for offensive pass interference, more than any team in the league. The latest infraction came Sunday, when his 10-yard catch on a third-and-5 play in the fourth quarter was nullified; Gronkowski was actually flagged for OPI twice against the Broncos, but the first penalty was offset by a defensive penalty on Aqib Talib. Prior to this season, Gronkowski had been penalized for offensive pass interference four times in his NFL career.
Josh McDaniels, the Patriots’ offensive coordinator, came to Gronkowski’s defense during a Tuesday conference call.
“I think that the best thing we can do is try to coach Rob based on the way we’ve been told we can play. Rob very rarely, if ever, extends his arms, and we try to make sure that we don’t do that,” McDaniels said. “I think a lot of time, the contact is initiated, and the question is who’s initiating it? We’re fortunate to have a guy who is a big athlete and is bigger than the guys who are covering him, and at times I think sometimes we feel like the contact is made and because the other guy takes the brunt of it, sometimes we end up getting called for it.”