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Patriots hope to get by without big No. 87

The+Patriots+have+been+fine+in+the+regular+season+without+tight+end+Rob+Gronkowski%2C+but+they+are+only+1-2+in+the+playoffs+without+him.
The Patriots have been fine in the regular season without tight end Rob Gronkowski, but they are only 1-2 in the playoffs without him.

The Patriots have been fine in the regular season without tight end Rob Gronkowski, but they are only 1-2 in the playoffs without him.

Google image/Creative Commons license

Google image/Creative Commons license

The Patriots have been fine in the regular season without tight end Rob Gronkowski, but they are only 1-2 in the playoffs without him.

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The third time’s a charm, right? Not for New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski on having the third back surgery of his career. In 2009 and 2013 Gronkowski had surgeries to repair herniated disks in his back and he had another procedure on Dec. 2.

This surgery leaves Gronkowski out for the remainder of the Patriots’ season—a huge setback as the team, the top seed in the AFC, heads into a home playoff game Saturday night against the Houston Texans, in search of a fifth Super Bowl championship in 15 years.

With Gronkowski out, can the Patriots get back to the top of the pyramid?

It depends on who you ask and how you focus your analysis. Get on the Internet and one pundit is writing the Patriots are toast, but another piece stating that they will win it all despite his absence is a click away.

There is cause for both hope and worry. New England is 14-5 in regular season games without Gronkowski, but 1-2 in playoff appearances without him.

After he went down this season in Week 12, the Patriots won their final five games. The defense helped to pick up the slack and, except for a 30-23 victory over Baltimore, the team didn’t give up more than 14 points in the other four games.

The worry? Although Gronkowski has not played a full 16-game season since 2011, and despite him missing 18 games over the past seven seasons, he still leads the league with 68 receiving touchdowns in that span.

That kind of production cannot easily be replaced.

But don’t cry into your Patriots hanky just yet, cautions Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe. In fact, relax, because “[e]ven without Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots—playing at home as they always do in the playoffs—are still the best team in the AFC,” Shaughnessy wrote on Dec. 3.

“He’s just a force out there and nobody works harder than him and has overcome what he’s overcome,” quarterback Tom Brady said after the 2015 season opener, in which Gronkowski scored three touchdowns in a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. “He’s a great player for our team, he sets the tone, his attitude, his work ethic, his enthusiasm. I love being out there with him. He’s just an incredible player and an incredible teammate, and nobody is happier for him than me.”

That effort came on the heels of Gronkowski’s amazing 2014 season, when he was the NFL Comeback Player of the Year after returning from a devastating knee injury that prematurely ended his 2013 season.

Even if the Patriots don’t need Gronkowski to win, having his intimidating 6-6, 265-pound frame on the field certainly never hurts.

He’ll be on the sideline watching Saturday, and the absence of a “Gronk spike” in the end zone may end up the difference between victory and defeat or simply mark the lack of an exclamation point at the close of another playoff celebration.

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Obligated to Truth
Patriots hope to get by without big No. 87