- Field Yates, ESPN Insider
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There was a point during the 2012 regular season when some were wondering if defenses had found a way to slow down Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. He was held to 61 receiving yards or less in four of his first six games, and had fallen off the torrential pace he set during his record-breaking 2011 season.
Those thoughts became a distant memory in the four games leading up to Gronkowski's Nov. 18 forearm injury, with seven touchdowns and two games of 137 receiving yards or more during that stretch.
But Gronk's shot to repeat his 2011 performance was stunted by the injury, and he was limited to 11 games this season. That wasn't enough to keep him off the starting unit of the AFC's Pro Bowl team, and All-Pro honors seem like a possibility for the 23-year-old as well.
In a season where tight end production seemed to slightly regress league-wide, Gronkowski still managed to put up big numbers in the time he was on the field. In fact, taking a look at where Gronkowski would have ranked if his 11-game totals were projected over a full season, one can see his 2012 measures up to his 2011.
While those totals represent a dip in production in all three categories, there are a few factors to consider that affected Gronkowski's production this season.
First of all, the Patriots became a much more balanced offense that was reliant on the running game, as they rushed the ball 85 more times in 2012 than they did in 2011. Though Tom Brady's passing attempts went up as well, the offense turned to the running game in critical situations when it often did not in 2011.
Additionally, the Patriots offense became more versatile with the presence of Brandon Lloyd, a perimeter receiver who has earned Brady's trust. Brady targeted Lloyd 130 times this season, second only to Wes Welker.
A repeat performance of Gronkowski's 2011 season was a tall order; after all, it was the greatest statistical season in NFL history by a tight end, but the third-year player still played at a dominant level in 2012 when he was on the field, and is the Patriots' most dangerous receiver in the passing game.