COMMENTARY| The New England Patriots moved to 5-1 on the season thanks to a 30-27 victory against the New Orleans Saints in Week 6. The win keeps them in first place in the AFC East, but will it be enough to ease the building tension surrounding the ongoing absence of tight end Rob Gronkowski.
The 24-year-old has yet to play this season due to multiple offseason surgeries. In particular, there has been concern regarding his surgically repaired left forearm, which became infected several times following the initial procedure.
Pro Football Talk's Mike Floria first reported that Dr. James Andrews, a specialist brought in to consult on Gronkowski's injury, recommended he not play against the Saints. Although he has been practicing for weeks, the belief is his arm may not have the necessary strength to hold up to the rigors of game action.
Previously, conflicting reports indicated the team was alternately at odds and in agreement with the tight end's reluctance to play.
ESPN's Ed Werder is now reporting there is growing resentment and confusion in New England about Gronkowski's prolonged absence. As one unnamed source explained, "There's curiosity and resentment, and he's creating it by going out and kicking [expletive] during the week and then he doesn't show up on game day and help the team win."
Not having Gronkowski has undoubtedly hurt the Patriots' offense. They are averaging 20.8 points per game, which is their lowest since 2000 when they finished the season with a 5-11 record.
Quarterback Tom Brady has really missed his big target. He has been repeatedly frustrated by having to work with a group of young and largely untested receivers. This has led to him posting just eight touchdowns and a 56.9 completion percentage through the first six games, which puts him on track for the worst statistical season of his career.
In the past, Gronkowski has been a security blanket for Brady, catching 38 touchdowns and making two Pro Bowls in his three seasons. In his stead, New England tight ends have combined for just nine receptions, 96 receiving yards and a touchdown, which is among the worst production from the position of any team in the NFL.
Gronkowski's teammates have supposedly started to wonder why he can't play on Sundays since he has been dominating on the practice field.
"If he's not playing in games, he damn sure should not be doing what he is in practice," said Werder's source.
"Whatever is holding him back now isn't going to be healed in two weeks, because there's nothing wrong with the arm."
Werder indicated some in the Patriots' locker room are questioning if Gronkowski even intends to play this year, and as a result, tension has permeated the team.
Despite his youth, Gronkowski should be seen as a leader. The six-year- $54 million extension he received last year makes him one of the highest paid players on the team. Although he may generously be described as boisterous or immature given his trend of boorish behavior as described by WEEI's Kirk Minihane, his superior ability on the field makes him stand out among his teammates.
No matter what his teammates might think, it appears the front office is still in support of Gronkowski's delayed return. According to a CSNNE report, owner Robert Kraft tackled the subject head-on when appearing on ESPN's Mike Lupica's radio show.
"He's the only one who can decide when he's ready to play and we're completely behind whatever his decision is," Kraft said. "Obviously all of us would like him to come as soon as possible, but we're not going to let our short-term desire impede what's right for the long-term."
In a separate article, Florio reported Gronkowski isn't expected to miss more than next week's game against the New York Jets. If that's the case, it remains to be seen how such news will be received by his teammates and others wondering why he has remained sidelined.
Winning can help push many problems under the rug, especially for a Patriots team that has won 10 or more games in each of the past 10 seasons. The victory against the Saints may have calmed things for the time being, but Gronkowski is clearly not winning any fans by how long he is taking to come back.
This year has already been filled with sensational story lines for the Patriots, such as star receiver Wes Welker's departure through free agency, Aaron Hernandez's arrest, and the Tim Tebow experiment. With the Gronkowski situation dragging on, it promises to add another chapter to what is turning out to be a soap opera of a season.
In addition to the Yahoo Contributor Network, Andrew Martin has written extensively for Bleacher Report and a number of print publications and websites on the topics of history and sports (particularly the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots). He also produces his own blog and has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts.
You can also follow Andrew on Twitter: @HistorianAndrew.
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