Hannable: Rob Gronkowski, Patriots should be focusing on big picture

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Photo credit David Butler II/USA Today Sports

FOXBORO -- Rob Gronkowski missed his second game of the year last Sunday night against the Packers with ankle and back injuries.

This came after the tight end missed his first game of the year in Week 7 against the Bears, but played in Week 8, which evidentially was in Buffalo, where he grew up. Now, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the tight end is considered week-to-week heading into Sunday's game against the Titans.

Gronkowski was a limited participant in Wednesday’s walkthrough and it remains to be seen if he will play Sunday in Nashville. But, the Patriots should not be allowing the tight end to step on the plane Saturday afternoon. It’s just not worth it.

Clearly, Gronkowski hasn’t been the same player as in the past this season and it’s in all likelihood due to nagging injuries. The ankle has been bothering him since Week 3, while the back didn’t pop up until Week 7. But, everyone knows the back issues that have plagued him for virtually his entire career.

"He works so hard and he wants to be out there so bad and everyone wants him to be out there feeling great and feeling like he can go out and play the way he wants to play,” Tom Brady said on Kirk & Callahan this week. “He’s been fighting through some things and the fact we took care of business without him playing is a great thing for our team.”

In his seven games played, he’s caught 29 passes for 448 yards and a touchdown, which means he’s on pace for 52 catches, 796 yards and just under two touchdowns. This is also assuming he plays in every game the rest of the way, which likely won’t happen.

His performance-based incentives numbers are no longer in play considering he needed to play 80 percent of the offensive snaps, while recording 70 receptions, 1,085 yards, and nine touchdowns.

Gronkowski no longer has these to play for, so now all of the the attention should on getting the most out of him, which is making sure he’s healthy for the games that matter down the stretch and especially the postseason.

Playing the All-Pro tight end in games like Sunday isn’t doing anyone any good. The Patriots likely can win without him, and not only does it increase his odds in potentially making his injuries worse, it doesn’t help with them healing and him feeling as good as he possibly can for when the games matter most.

Rest seems like the only thing that can help Gronkowski at this point.

While it may be hard for him to admit it, playing in these games is not doing him any good. Having his incentives no longer in play gives him all the reason in the world to sit out this week against the Titans, enjoy the bye week, and then maybe even sit out against the Jets the week following the bye.

New England then closes the year with a home game against the Vikings, road games at Miami and Pittsburgh, and then home games against the Bills and Jets. By the time Week 16 and 17 roll around, perhaps the Patriots playoff seeding will already be known and he can rest those weeks as well to ensure he’s at his best for when the team needs him most in the postseason.

Also, playing it safe going into these weeks potentially could make things easier on Josh McDaniels and the rest of the offense. Over the last few weeks Gronkowski has been a true game-time decision, which has meant the offense has essentially needed two gameplans — one with Gronkowski and one without him. This has put some extra pressure and the rest of the offense for that matter with the way it prepares.

It’s time for the Patriots to rest Gronkowski. They’ll thank themselves later.