Rob Gronkowski is undergoing back surgery Friday for a herniated disc that is expected to sideline the four-time All-Pro tight end at least a few weeks, per multiple reports.
Gronkowski suffered the injury early in Week 12 versus the Jets and didn't return.
It's been an injury-shortened season for the Patriots' all-time touchdown receptions leader, as he missed the first two games with a hamstring injury, before sitting out in Week 11 with a punctured lung. Gronk returned after missing only one game, but suffered his latest ailment Sunday.
It's concerning enough when one of the game's more dominant weapons is sidelined. No one will weep for the 9-2 Patriots and Tom Brady, one of the NFL's more resourceful players who's been virtually unstoppable with or without Gronk. New England, which is closing in on its eighth consecutive postseason berth, has the luxury of fellow Pro Bowl TE Martellus Bennett, though Bennett is banged up himself and has been quiet in recent weeks. But with the ascent of Chris Hogan and rookie Malcolm Mitchell, not to mention stalwart Julian Edelman and the presence of a three-headed backfield monster including LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis and James White, Brady isn't lacking for weapons.
But Gronkowski's no stranger to back injuries — he missed his entire senior season at Arizona following back surgery, subsequently falling to the the second round of the draft. After appearing in 32 consecutive games to begin his Hall of Fame career, Gronk missed a combined 16 games over the next four seasons.
Gronkowski is just 27, but he plays the game with the kind of vigor and physicality unmatched by virtually all of his peers. Brady's Week Five return from Deflategate coincided with one of the best four-game stretches of Gronk's career. Following at least his third back surgery, though, is it fair to wonder if/when we might see that version again?