Fear Not: Rob Gronkowski Is Back in Our Lives

That knee looks A-OK.

Photo via AP

Photo via AP

When Rob Gronkowski was carted off the field in Denver, the scene was reminiscent of the season-ending knee injury he suffered two years ago. But just two weeks later, he propelled the Patriots to their most important win yet.

The Pats thumped the Texans 27-6 Sunday night in what was their largest margin of victory in over a month. New England clinched its 13th playoff birth in 15 years with the win, but more importantly, it regained control of the No. 1 seed thanks to losses from the Broncos and Bengals. If the Patriots win the rest of their games, they’ll secure home field advantage for the duration of the postseason.

The Patriots struck first when Tom Brady found Keshawn Martin in the end zone with 7:28 remaining in the first quarter, but the biggest play of the drive was a 45-yard reception from Gronkowski that moved the Patriots near the goal line. Texans linebacker Whitney Mercilus was matched up with Gronkowski on the play, and didn’t have a prayer.

Just before the end of the first half, Gronkowski once again showed why he’s arguably the hardest cover in the NFL. With the Patriots on Houston’s one-yard line, Brady lobbed a pass intended for Gronkowski in the left corner of the end zone. The 6-foot-6 behemoth leaped over Texans cornerback Quintin Demps with ease.

With that touchdown catch, Gronkowski became the first tight end in NFL history with five seasons of at least 10 TD receptions—and to think he almost didn’t play.

Prior to Sunday, the consensus was that Gronkowski would sit out for the second consecutive game with a bone bruise in his right knee. Just two weeks ago, Gronkowski pledged in a video posted on Bleacher Report he wouldn’t return until he was “100 percent.” Surely, he hasn’t healed that quickly.

But the circumstances have changed. After two straight losses, the Patriots had fallen to the No. 3 seed in the conference, meaning they weren’t in position to receive a coveted first-round bye. The Patriots have never won the Super Bowl under Bill Belichick without being one of the top two seeds.

Gronkowski returned to practice at the end of the week and joined his teammates on their flight to Houston. The Globe‘s Ben Volin first reported Saturday night Gronkowski would be in the lineup.

Brady was 4-for-4 for 86 yards with a touchdown when targeting Gronkowski and played one of his cleanest games since October. “There’s nobody I trust more than Gronk,” Brady said afterwards.

Though Gronkowski wasn’t on the field for his usual load of snaps—he sat out on 27 of New England’s 69 plays—his presence was more than enough to get the Patriots back on track.

An undefeated season is no longer a possibility, but a deep playoff run looks as attainable as ever.