PHOENIX -- You can call it a comeback. Rob Gronkowski has been here for years, but his return to health in 2014 was a reminder of why he's one of the biggest difference-makers in the NFL.
Gronkowski won the Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year award on Saturday at NFL Honors. He is a little too busy this week to accept the award in person, which is a reminder of how valuable Gronk truly is. This Patriots offense is different because of Gronkowski. This Patriots team is still playing in large part because of unanimous All-Pro tight end.
We were starting to wonder if Gronkowski could make it through a full season healthy again. He was hobbled the last time the Patriots were in the Super Bowl after the 2011 season with an ankle injury that required surgery. He broke his forearm in 2012, missed five games, then broke it again in the playoffs. The injury required three more surgeries, and then he also needed back surgery that offseason. Gronk seemingly returned better than ever at midseason in 2013, and then tore his ACL late in the year.
It's easy to forget that Gronkowski started this season off slowly. He did not look like the same player early in September, failing to gain over 40 yards in his first four games. The victory over Cincinnati was a turning point for Gronkowski and the team. He totaled 100 yards in that game, and didn't look back on the way to 82 catches for 1,124 yards and 12 scores. He topped 100 yards in the team's Divisional Round win over Baltimore.
When Gronk is healthy, he's the toughest matchup in the NFL. He is too big to cover for cornerbacks and too fast for linebackers. No one can seem to take him down in the open field. He remains an excellent blocker and gives the Patriots a ton of play-calling options.
It's been a blast to watch what Gronkowski can do in a fully healthy season; he could be the most impactful tight end of all time. With another season removed from his ACL surgery, he should be even better in 2015, but we've learned not to assume anything about Gronk's availability.
A fully healthy, in-form Gronk is indeed one of the rarest NFL specimens ever spotted in the wild. Enjoy him while it lasts.