FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 18: Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots celebrates with Tom Brady #12 against the Indianapolis Colts into the end zone for a touchdown in the first half at Gillette Stadium on November 18, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
It took nearly seven weeks, but Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has been cleared to play, according to ESPN. Gronk's agent, confirmed as much via text message to several news outlets, Rob Gronkowski has now been cleared by all his doctors to play Sunday in the Jets game."
This means that, for the first time all season, quarterback Tom Brady would have his favorite target from recent seasons. Gronk hauled in 55 receptions for 790 yards and 11 touchdowns in 11 games last season, and in 16 starts in 2011, he had 90 catches for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns. He will immediately add a big-play dimension to an offense that, frankly, has struggled.
Brady has been inconsistent for much of the season, and part of the blame can be place on his cadre of young, inexperienced wide receivers. That said, the team is 5-1, and rookie Kenbrell Thompkins took a huge leap forward last Sunday when he made a game-winning touchdown grab in the back of the end zone as time expired in the team's improbable win over the Saints.
Assuming Gronkowski plays on Sunday vs. the Jets (on Friday morning, coach Bill Belichick would neither confirm nor deny that Gronk had been cleared, and would only say an updated injury report would be released at the end of the day), defending the Pats just got tougher for the rest of the league.
Whether that will be enough to overcome losses on the other side of the ball over the long haul -- nose tackle Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo have been lost for the year due to injuries -- is another issue. That said, if New England was already in the driver's seat in the AFC East, their position is only bolstered by Gronk's return. The bigger-picture issue is whether Brady, Gronk et al on offense can overcome a decimated defense.