No one's better at playing the long game than Bill Belichick, and it appears the Patriots coach is continuing to play it safe this week with his all-world tight end Rob Gronkowski, who will not play against the Titans on Sunday, CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora reported on Saturday.
Patriots excited about the return of Sony Michel to their offense tomorrow. He is ready to to. Gronk, however, is going to be out until sometime after their Week 11 bye as he deals with back issues and tries to get back for the playoff push— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) November 10, 2018
The "sometime after their Week 11 bye" indicates that he's no lock to be back on the field in Week 12. The Patriots are at the Jets for that game before playing the Vikings at home, the Dolphins and Steelers on the road, and the Bills and Jets at home to close out the season. Maybe that Steelers game is a good target for Gronk in a matchup that could be critical for playoff positioning.
Gronk was listed as questionable coming into the weekend and it sure seemed based on the way he presented his situation to reporters on Friday that he might not be playing for New England in Nashville on Sunday.
The Patriots are in a good spot right now, with a two-game lead in the AFC East and a leg up on the Chiefs for the No. 1 seed thanks to their head-to-head tiebreaker.
New England rested Gronkowski against the Packers in Week 9 and still managed to produce plenty of offense and win the game pretty handily, topping Aaron Rodgers' team by 14 points. So they can certainly afford to let Gronkowski rest when they travel to Nashville to take on the Titans; New England is a touchdown favorite on the road after their stout performance last week.
That's not to say this is a freebie for the Patriots. Nothing is free in the NFL, and even when you're a huge favorite you can come away with an L if there's an assumption of victory.
But this does feel like a game we saw from the Pats a few weeks ago, when New England just did their best to pop some points on the board and get out of Buffalo with a win.
Plus, for Gronkowski, it's more important to keep him healthy over the long haul in what he's called a "challenging" season so far.
"It's been more challenging, just with the obstacles in the way," Gronkowski told reporters recently, via the Boston Herald. "But it's life. You've got to take them on, and that's what I'm doing. Just got to get back to where I need to be and just be myself when I get back. It'll all be good."
Belichick has seen a season turn on an unnecessary injury before (Wes Welker tore his ACL against the Texans in Week 17 way back in the day) and has, I believe, taken a more conservative approach to managing his guys throughout the season since.
This Gronkowski situation absolutely applies to that -- having a healthy Gronk for the playoffs should be the Patriots' top priority and it's clear they're going to make sure he can shake the issues he's dealt with this season in order to help make a Super Bowl run.