Few would admit that the absence of the tight end was the true source of the Patriots' offensive woes, but after six games back in action, few will deny his return is one of the primary sources of their resurgence.
The numbers speak for themselves.
|Games||Pts/gm.||Yds/gm.||Red zone %||Brady comp %||Brady passer rating||Most points||Fewest points|
|Without Gronkowski (6)||20.8||348.8||40.9||56.9||79.5||30||6|
|With Gronkowski (6)||32.8||406.7||67.9||64.7||96.7||55||20|
Before Gronkowski's return, the Patriots offense had scored more than 23 points just once. Since his return, they've scored fewer than 27 just once.
Their red-zone offense has improved by over 27 percentage points since Gronkowski has returned. The tight end has caught three of Brady's eight red-zone touchdown passes in the past six games, but as we saw on Sunday, his presence has even helped others to get free.
Just look at this touchdown catch by running back Shane Vereen, who went into the end zone unseen by any set of eyes on the Texans defense. That's because three sets of eyes were locked on Rob Gronkowski as the tight end tried to find a soft spot in the coverage in the end zone.
As a result, the Texans ended up leaving a spot underneath soft enough to fall asleep on—it just so happens "sleeping" accurately describes what the Texans did in coverage on Vereen.
You don't have to look at the stat sheet to notice Gronkowski's impact. You can simply watch him streak through the secondary and rumble through multiple defenders after making the catch.
It took two defenders—a linebacker and a safety—giving everything they had to bring down Gronkowski, and even then it was barely enough.
Gronkowski has provided yet another reliable target for Brady on throws over the middle of the field, which have been Brady's bread and butter throughout his career—according to Pro Football Focus, he has completed 69.4 percent of his passes over the middle, against 54.9 percent outside the numbers.
Of Gronkowski's 37 receptions so far, 21 of them have come on throws between the numbers, and he has accumulated 352 yards on those receptions (16.8 YPR) and three touchdowns.
What the Patriots missed. Rob Gronkowski leads all TEs with 2.86 yards per route run. Jimmy Graham in 2nd with 2.55.— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) December 3, 2013
For all his glories as a pass-catcher, he has developed into one of the better blocking tight ends in all of football.
He wasn't a lead blocker on this seven-yard touchdown run by LeGarrette Blount, but he set the edge and turned Texans linebacker Brooks Reed's shoulders away from the play, driving him toward the ground in the process.
There was wonder to whether Gronkowski would play this year. Now, there is greater wonder to how the Patriots ever got by without him. The former All-Pro tight end has always been a big play threat at tight end, and he has resumed his playmaking ways in short order.
This opens things up for the other skill position players like Vereen, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. With the full complement of weapons back in Brady's arsenal, the Patriots offense is hitting stride at just the right time, and some of their early-season weaknesses have quickly developed into strengths that could carry the team through the postseason.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.