Much like a child who forgoes sleep anticipating gifts on Christmas day, the Patriots will have to wait just a little bit longer to open their tinsel-wrapped tight end. Early in the week, a handful of media outlets reported the likelihood of Rob Gronkowski returning to practice this week as the team prepares for its Sunday Night Football contest against the San Francisco 49ers.
The Globe's Shalise Manza Young tweeted just as much:
@shalisemyoung according to a league source, Rob Gronkowski is expected to try to practice this week. Gronkowski underwent surgery on his broken arm Nov 19
The NFL.com's Albert Breer reported that Gronkowski had told several close acquaintances of his desire to return to the field during the Patriots' two-week primetime slate:
Breer said Tuesday night on NFL Network's "NFL Total Access" that Gronk had told people close to him he wanted to come back during this two-game stretch of prime-time games, but it was "unlikely" to happen. With games against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins to end the season, the Patriots could be careful with when they bring him back, according to Breer.
Adam Schefter then reported that the team's plan all along was to have Gronkowski return for the regular season finale at home against the Miami Dolphins as a type of primer for the playoffs. Any practice in the meantime would be moot:
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, via Evan Silva, the Patriots plan on having tight end Rob Gronkowski play in their final game of the regular season a tune up for the playoffs. Gronkowski was out on the practice field today to likely get the rest of his body back into shape
Gronkowski, up to this point, has missed both Wednesday and Thursday's practices, all but dashing any hopes that he'd be able to suit up this weekend.
Whichever school of thought you choose to subscribe to, it can't be ignored that the Patriots find themselves in a unique and incredibly fortunate situation. Since Gronkowski has been sidelined with a broken forearm, the Patriots have won all three games. Better yet, they've ripped through their games at an absolutely torrid pace, scoring an average of 38 points a contest. It'd be difficult to explain exactly why the team hasn't skipped a single beat despite losing one of their most prolific playmakers and better run blockers, but they've earned the right to err on the side of caution and allow Gronkowski more than enough time to appropriately recuperate. While jockeying for final playoff positioning is important, prematurely rushing any player back from injury right before the postseason push would be foolish.
Sunday's game marks exactly four weeks since Gronkowski suffered the injury, which lies on the earliest side of the estimated 4-to-6 week timetable we've heard being kicked around that signifies his eventual return to the football field.
UPDATE: (12/14/12 12:18 p.m. est): Rob Gronkowski was spotted at the beginning of Friday's practice which includes in-stadium workouts and light agility drills. While this bodes well for his availability going forward, it still remains highly unlikely that Gronkowski will be available to play this Sunday night.