Rob Gronkowski's back will no longer hold him back.
According to Pro Football Talk, the New England Patriots All-Pro tight end is "likely" to play this week against the New Orleans Saints:
Per league source, Rob Gronkowski is expected to be cleared this week and it is likely he will play on Sunday against the Saints.— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) October 8, 2013
PFT followed up its own report with this tweet:
On Gronk, it's not a lock he'll play. But likely. Dr. James Andrews will make the final call, per source.— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) October 8, 2013
Those tweets represent the most encouraging news regarding Gronkowski all season, after multiple offseason forearm surgeries and a procedure on his back kept him on the sidelines for the first five games of the 2013 campaign.
Although the Patriots are 4-1 and sit atop their division, Tom Brady hasn't been himself. It's been weird. Really weird.
But not shocking.
New England's top five pass-catchers from Brady's 4,827-yard, 34-touchdown, eight-interception masterpiece in 2012 weren't on the team at the start of 2013.
Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd and Danny Woodhead were "lost" in the offseason, and Gronkowski's injuries meant Brady would be throwing to an entirely new collection of receiving weapons.
That new collection has hurt the future Hall of Famer's productivity in a major way.
In short, the Patriots desperately need Gronkowski to return to the field.
Here's what Brady's done this year on a per-game basis compared to his 2012 season:
Diving deeper into more of Brady's advanced statistics without Gronkowski, we've seen a dramatic dip in the quarterback's overall efficiency and accuracy as well.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Brady's Accuracy Percentage—a metric that disregards drops, passes tipped at the line, spikes and throwaways in an attempt to measure a signal-caller's true accuracy—is only 68.7, which ranks 25 of 34 qualifying quarterbacks.
In 2012, Brady's Accuracy Percentage was 74.8, the 12th-highest in football.
PFF considers similar factors when computing its QB rating (subscription required)—Brady's PFF QB rating was 93.2 at the end of the last season. Right now, it's 83.4.
These statistics are relevant because they help to distill how instrumental Gronkowski is to Brady's effectiveness.
According to Chris Wesseling of NFL.com, these are the numbers Brady compiled with Gronkowski on the field last season:
Not on throws to Gronkowski, just with Gronkowski on the field. Remember that.
How about when Brady actually threw it to Gronk in 2012?
The numbers were, well, staggering:
Brady and Gronkowski have established an amazingly strong connection on the field since the former Arizona tight end was drafted in 2010, and that rapport has directly resulted in ridiculous numbers for both players during that time frame.
Heading into this season, Gronkowski's 38 touchdowns since 2010 were the most of any player in the NFL.
The Patriots, quite uncharacteristically, have had trouble scoring touchdowns on offense this year, especially when they near the opposition's end zone.
Per ESPN Stats & Information, "the New England Patriots have gotten into the end zone on just 35 percent of their red zone drives this season, better than only the Jaguars in the NFL. The Patriots scored a touchdown on a league-best 70 percent of drives inside the 20 last season."
More perspective from that article includes this tidbit on Gronkowski's red zone impact: "Gronk has been Brady’s most-targeted receiver in red zone since the start of 2010 (58), catching 69 percent of his targets. Gronkowski has an NFL-high 29 receiving touchdowns in the red zone during that time."
With the AFC East appearing to be much better than initially expected, the Patriots must return to form on offense.
We all know Gronkowski is important to Brady and the Patriots, but now you know just how important the massive tight end really is.