Something Fishy Is Going on with Rob Gronkowski

His status is the biggest question for the Patriots heading into Saturday's playoff game against the Chiefs.

While much of the focus in Patriot Place this week revolved around Chandler Jones’ bizarre shirtless visit to the Foxborough Police Station and Bill Belichick’s black eye, the biggest concern for the Pats entering Saturday’s playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs is a familiar one: Rob Gronkowski’s health.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Mike Reiss report Gronkowski missed Thursday’s practice because he received an injection in his right knee at a Boston hospital. It was the second practice Gronkowski missed in three days.

But per usual with Gronkowski, whose health has regularly been a point of contention, the story is more complicated than that. NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport contradicts ESPN’s report, tweeting Gronkowski didn’t receive an injection on his knee and is getting ready to play. Meanwhile, the Patriots say Gronkowski wasn’t present at Thursday’s practice because of a back injury. The genesis of this alleged back problem is unknown.

Gronkowsi has an extensive history with back injuries, as he missed all of his junior season at the University of Arizona with a ruptured disk and nerve damage. In June 2013, Gronkowski underwent surgery to repair a herniated disk and didn’t play until mid-October of that year.

Though the details about Gronkowski’s latest reported back flare up are a mystery, it’s easy to pinpoint the timeline surrounding his knee problem. Gronkowski bruised his right knee against the Denver Broncos Nov. 29 after safety Darian Stewart hit him low and released a video on Bleacher Report two days later, saying he wouldn’t play again until he’s “100 percent.” And yet, Gronkowski was back on the field in just two weeks—perhaps not coincidently after the Patriots had suffered a disheartening loss at home to the lowly Philadelphia Eagles.

Gronkowski hasn’t been the same player in his four games back since the injury. He’s averaged just 3.8 catches and 61.3 receiving yards per game over the last month compared to the 5.2 catches and 84.6 receiving yards he averaged before then.

This wouldn’t be the first time Gronkowski has seemingly returned too early from an injury. In 2012, he broke his forearm in mid-November only to come back just six weeks later. Gronkowski broke the same forearm again in the Patriots’ first playoff game that season, setting off months of apparent discontent between his camp and the organization.

Given Belichick’s penchant for secrecy, it’s unlikely Gronkowski’s true status will be known prior to kick off Saturday. Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio even speculates the Patriots are purposely overstating Gronkowski’s injuries in order to confuse the Chiefs as they finalize their game plan.

With Julian Edelman set to play his first game in two months since breaking his foot and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer readying to play for the first time since suffering a gruesome-looking foot injury, the last thing the Patriots need is a hindered Gronk. But unless this is all one big ruse, as Florio suggests, it seems certain he’ll be far from 100 percent Saturday.

The question is, just how limited will he be?