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Rob Gronkowski to undergo back surgery Friday
The New England Patriots were dealt a dose of brutal news Thursday: Rob Gronkowski's back injury was worse than originally thought.
The tight end will undergo back surgery on Friday for a herniated disk and be out several weeks, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported.
The Buffalo News' Vic Carucci first reported the news.
There is no timetable for Gronk's return, but the surgery could sideline Tom Brady's favorite target deep into the playoffs.
Gronkowski took a massive hit two weeks ago from Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, suffering a perforated lung on the blow. Gronk left last week's win over the New York Jets with a back injury.
While the team initially thought the tight end could return in short order, further examination revealed he needed surgery.
Although the injury likely won't stop the Pats (9-2) from making the playoffs, it's a severe blow to their Super Bowl chances if Gronk can't return in the postseason.
Friday's procedure marks the third on the 27-year-old's back, after surgeries in 2009 and 2013.
It's safe to start pondering whether Gronkowski's Hall of Fame-caliber career will be chronically marred by recurring injuries. The seventh-year pro had already missed 18 games (not including playoffs) in his career due to injury before the back injury.
2016: Hamstring, lung (3 games)
2015: Knee (1 game)
2013: Back, forearm, ACL/MCL, concussion (9 games)
2012: Hip, forearm (5 games)
The loss of Gronk is a severe blow to Brady. The Pats' offense becomes much less dynamic without the matchup nightmare, especially in the red zone.
Patriots' Offense With & Without Rob Gronkowski Since 2010:
With Gronk: 31.2 PPG, 391.9 total YPG, 279.2 pass YPG
Without Gronk: 26.9 PPG, 382.6 total YPG, 252.4 pass YPG
In his 86 games with Gronkowski, Brady has a 104.5 passer rating with a 65.5 completion percentage. Brady's numbers dip to 84.4 and 57.5 percent without Gronk.
Gronk's rare combination of size and athletic ability make him a demon for linebackers, safeties or cornerbacks in coverage. Since entering the league, Gronk leads the NFL in TD receptions with 68. Earlier this year he set the Patriots all-time touchdown record with 69.
In Gronk's absence Martellus Bennett is the logical next man up, but he's also dealing with ankle and shoulder injuries. Brady will also lean on improving rookie Malcolm Mitchell -- a receiver with hands the quarterback compared to Gronk's earlier this year. Backfield pass catchers Dion Lewis and James White could also see an increased role as Josh McDaniels attempts to diversify his offense after losing its biggest matchup.