Let’s not overreact to the sloppy slugfest that went down Sunday Night between the Buccaneers and the Patriots… or let’s.
Rob Gronkowski is far and away the most impactful weapon in Tampa’s offense. He is the system. He is still Tom Brady’s go to target and he has never been healthier.
At least that what we all saw heading into the matchup against the Los Angeles Rams.
The Rams did their homework and outplayed the Buccaneers from start to finish. To make matters worse; Gronk took a shot to the ribcage over the middle of the field in the 2nd half of the game. He left the game but returned later in the 4th quarter after initial X-Rays came back negative.
After further evaluation in the following week of practice, MRI’s confirmed multiple fractured ribs and a punctured lung. Ultimately ruling Gronk out ahead of his planned return to Foxborough with Brady.
The Buccaneers have a plethora of weapons all over the field, so a game or two without Gronk shouldn’t be a big deal right?
In the first two games of the season Tom Brady threw 9 touchdown passes, 4 of them to his future Hall of Fame tight end.
Post Gronk injury? Brady has just one touchdown pass and zero to his receivers; a core that features Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown.
Why the decline?
Simple. Gronk is and has been Brady’s security blanket since he entered the league in 2010. With his virtually unguardable frame at 6’6 and 265lbs, Brady looks to Gronk as a primary target. More importantly: when a play breaks down and all else fails, Gronkowski is one of the most reliable pass catchers in the game.
Gronk is the playmaker Brady trusts and has the most experience with. Brady has reached the Super Bowl in four straight seasons with Gronkowski. In 2019 without Gronk: Brady and the Pats suffered a first round exit at the hands of the Tennesee Titans with Brady throwing a pick six on his last pass as a Patriot.
Not only was Gronk opening up the field for his fellow playmakers, he was also performing at an All-Pro level. One could perhaps argue a “Prime Gronk level.”
After a year in retirement and a season without significant injury, Gronk was in what might’ve been the best physical shape of his life. One can only hope that this injury doesn’t linger as the season wears on; but given the numbers, the Bucs may need him sooner rather than later.
Until Gronk returns, the offense will need to be retooled to better suit the wideouts and the Bucs will need to embrace and emphasize the run game. Leonard Fournette’s 4.2 ypc and his ability to wear down defenders in the 4th quarter is a glimmer of hope in what has been a running game that has left something to be desired. His performance could prove the difference in the win column.
With other TEs Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard, the Bucs have arguably the deepest tight end rotation in the league, and despite that, the loss of Gronk proved to be a significant one early on. With another week of practice in, we should expect to see Brate on the same page as his QB, and Howard should be in for more playing time against the Dolphins.