Posted on January 27, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine

New England Patriots Rob Gronkowski

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The New England Patriots can breathe in a sigh of relief. Well, at least a half sigh of relief. Six days after tight end Rob Gronkowski missed the second half of the AFC Championship Game due to a concussion, he was back on the practice field. Gronkowski was a participant in New England’s practice on Saturday. His return likely puts him on track to play in Super Bowl LII next Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Gronkowski had just one catch on three targets in the AFC Championship Game against the Jaguars before he was knocked out by a helmet-to-helmet hit from Barry Church. The refs penalized Church for the hit, and the NFL has since fined him over $24,000. However, Gronkowski was unable to return for the 2nd half of the game. Fortunately for the Patriots, they were able to rally in the 4th quarter to beat the Jaguars without him. New England is now poised to get their star tight end back as they try to win their second straight Super Bowl.

It’s important to note that Gronkowski is not yet out of the NFL’s concussion protocol. However, he has progressed to the point of being able to participate in non-contact drills. That likely puts him on track to be fully cleared and available for next Sunday’s game with the Eagles.

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Gronkowski was officially listed as “out” during Friday’s practice. Had the Super Bowl been this week, he would not have been cleared to play. But the bye week following the conference championship games gives him more time to recover. As long as Gronkowski is cleared by an independent doctor and able to fully participate in practice by next Friday, he’ll be all systems go for the Super Bowl.

On the off chance Gronkowski can’t play in the Super Bowl, it would be a massive blow for the Patriots. Obviously, New England was able to come from behind against the Jaguars without him. The Patriots also won last year’s Super Bowl against the Falcons without Gronkowski available. However, Gronkowski is still a matchup nightmare that few teams are able to contain. Outside of Tom Brady, he’s arguably the biggest difference maker the Patriots have on their roster.

Even with Gronkowski still in concussion protocol, the Eagles are preparing as if they’ll have to face him in the Super Bowl.

“Gronk is playing in this game,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said earlier this week. “At least that’s how we’re going to prepare for them.”

The Eagles will likely use a number of different tactics to defend Gronkowski. But Jenkins figures to be matched up against him more often than any other player on Philadelphia’s defense. Jenkins has the size and physicality to handle tight ends and bigger wide receivers. But he understands the challenge ahead of him when facing Gronkowski.

“He does a great job with his body, positioning himself between the defender and the ball, and catches everything in his radius,” said Jenkins. “In the red zone, he’s a whole different monster.”

While it’s not yet official, it seems likely that Gronkowski will be cleared from the NFL’s concussion protocol in time to play in the Super Bowl. Obviously, the Patriots would be favored with or without him. But a healthy Gronkowski will swing the Super Bowl odds even more in New England’s favor.

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