For the New England Patriots and Rob Gronkowski, no news at this stage may be good news.
If that sounds a strange thing to say then it’s because concussion is an atypical injury. Gronkowski, who took a helmet-to-helmet hit from Jacksonville Jaguars safety Barry Church in the second quarter of Sunday’s AFC Championship game and rose to his feet woozily, will feel better when he feels better.
And that could take a while. The Boston Herald reported on Monday that the 28-year-old remains in concussion protocol, two days after Church delivered the blow that knocked him from the game and put his status for Super Bowl 52 into jeopardy.
The Herald quoted Matthew Slater, the Patriots’ special teams captain, on Gronkowski. “He was in pretty good spirits today when I spoke to him,” Slater said.
Of course, “in good spirits” doesn’t mean much when talking about concussions. Gronkowski is going to have to pass the NFL’s Return-to-Participation protocols, which involve four, gradated steps. ‘Rest and Recovery’ is followed by ‘Light Aerobic Exercise,’ ‘Continued Aerobic Exercise & Introduction of Strength Training,’ ‘Football Specific Activities’ and finally, ‘Full Football Activity/Clearance.’
At every stage, Gronkowski is going to have to prove himself asymptomatic. That’s possible, with the Super Bowl in Minneapolis still 12 days away. But the Herald makes a salient point, that all of the Patriots’ concussions this season have involved different recovery times. “Early this season, Danny Amendola missed one game to a concussion, while Stephon Gilmore missed three,” Adam Kurkjian wrote. “Right tackle Marcus Cannon and linebackers Trevor Reilly and Harvey Langi also missed one game with a concussion. And linebacker Shea McClellin’s problems with a head injury caused him to miss the entire season.”
So the Patriots, and Gronkowski, will wait for their star receiver to be cleared. It may happen within the next 12 days. But this is a frustrating, invisible injury. Once upon a time Gronkowski might have been rushed back to play in football’s biggest game. Now, in a more enlightened era, the Patriots’ medical staff will tread extra carefully, aware that a Super Bowl isn’t worth nearly as much as a brain.