Report: Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski "could" play tonight vs. the 49ers. I repeat..."could" thesco.re/T2ldXs— The Score (@theScore) December 16, 2012
Regardless of his inclusion in the Sunday night game against the 49ers, Gronk should be cautious with his forearm and work on getting fully healthy for another patented New England playoff run.
If you'll remember, the Patriots dealt with late-season Gronkowski injuries last year. The argument could certainly be made that the ankle injury that kept Gronk as a game-time decision for the Super Bowl loss against the New York Giants was one of the main factors in denying Brady his fourth ring.
This time around, the offense is picking up the slack in a big way, and it isn't imperative that Gronk hurry back to help a struggling bunch. New England is anything but struggling over the past few weeks.
Gronk went down November 18 against the Indianapolis Colts. New England's offensive juggernaut got going just fine without him, reeling off three games of 40-plus points in its last four contests—all wins. That included a Week 14 demolition of the Houston Texans, currently the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
Tom Brady hasn't missed a step without Gronk, either.
Including the Indianapolis game, Brady has thrown for 1,118 yards, 11 touchdowns and just one interception. Brady is making a strong case for league MVP, one of the big reasons this team hasn't missed Gronkowski.
Another is the re-inclusion of Aaron Hernandez to the offense after he missed multiple games with ankle injuries. Hernandez has emerged as a true replacement to Gronkowski's production in the offense, and he is perfectly capable of handling a starting TE position by himself.
When should Gronk play again?
Lucky for the Pats—terrible for the rest of the league—they have two guys that are frontline TEs. Since the Patriots have clinched their division and are now solely focused on playing good football while preparing for the postseason, it's not imperative that Gronkowski hurry back—even if he is ready to play.
It's more important for this playoff juggernaut to have players healthy in January and February than it is for late December. It cost them in the Super Bowl to not have Gronk at full speed, something that likely haunts Brady to this day.
I know what you're thinking—a forearm isn't as serious as an ankle or head injury. However, it's a vital part of the body that must help a receiver catch the ball; it's a pivotal piece of the puzzle that is the human body in a football environment.
Injuries can happen at any time, but the Patriots need not rush back a guy that can change a game just by being on the field. With last year's Super Bowl in mind, the Patriots can take a small step towards this year's big game by just keeping a game-changer healthy for postseason play.
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for B/R's Breaking News Team.