Gronkowski shouldn't rush his return

New England Patriots Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski made his long-awaited return to practice Friday after breaking his arm on Nov. 18. But practicing is all Gronkowski should do for at least another week or two until he's completely healthy.

The Gronkowski’s dilemma is an interesting one. This week, an overwhelming majority voted for Gronkowski to sit out Sunday's big game against the San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1). New England (10-3) is in a tight race for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and needs this win.

But I agree with most of our community. New England's short-term goals are not worth risking its long-term potential. Gronkowski playing this week would be considered ahead of schedule. His original projection was four to six weeks.

New England must consider the long-term impact of risking re-injury. If "Gronk" breaks his arm for a second time there is no coming back -- he's done for the year. The Patriots need Gronkowski healthy in January and potentially February, not in Week 15 in December.

If Gronkowski is simply practicing for now as way to work himself back into football shape, that's fine. Practices are a controlled, low-contact environment, especially for players who are injured and limited.

But playing Gronkowski in a game this soon would be a mistake. The Patriots are doing fine without him. New England is averaging 38 points per game in the three weeks he's missed, which includes last Monday's 42-14 thrashing of the Houston Texans.

The Patriots lost last season's Super Bowl partly due to Gronkowski being injured. New England would be wise not to let history repeat itself for a second straight year.