The New England Patriots head into this week's matchup with the Miami Dolphins with plenty to play for, and while it would be nice to get one of their best offensive weapons some playing time before the postseason, the Patriots are taking to right route by playing this one close to the vest.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski, who broke his forearm more than a month ago, has been at practice for a week now, but according to Mike Whitner of The Boston Globe, head coach Bill Belichick indicated that the third-year pro won't return to game action until he's good and ready.
"He did more last week than he did the week before, and we’ll see where he’s at today and tomorrow when we go out there, see what he can do," Belichick said on Wednesday, prior to the team's practice. "We’ll take it day-to-day, based on where he’s at. He’s moving along, not ready yet."
That places Gronkowski's playing status for Week 17 very much in doubt, and while it would certainly help New England to have Gronkowski get some work in before the postseason, Belichick made it clear that no one game is worth risking a player's safety.
I don’t think that’s a decision that a coach makes or influences, that’s a medical decision if it’s a medical situation. Once it’s a competitive decision, then that’s a coach’s decision. [If it's a] medical decision, that’s made by medical people.
Granted, this is Bill Belichick and injuries we're talking about, so I wouldn't put it past him that this openness about Gronkowski's condition from the usually tight-lipped Belichick is gamesmanship on his part.
However, it's more likely than not that New England is simply playing it safe with Gronkowski, and that's a wise course of action.
Sure, the Patriots need a win this week if they have any hope of securing a first-round bye, but in all honesty they should be able to beat the Dolphins without Gronkowski, and even a victory over the Dolphins doesn't guarantee an extra week of rest.
Also, while it's understandable to not want a player to come in "cold" in a playoff game after a long layoff, so long as his conditioning is good it really shouldn't be that big an issue.
After all, it's not like Gronkowski, who has 53 catches for 748 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, forgot the playbook or how to catch a football over the past four weeks.
Taking the conservative route certainly beats the alternative. An injury such as a broken forearm, if allowed to heal properly, shouldn't be overly prone to re-occurring. However, rush that same player back into action before that arm is fully healed and you could easily end up right back at square one.
Even if that means the Patriots don't see Rob Gronkowski back on the field until 2013.