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Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Big decision: Should Hernandez play?

By Mike Rodak

The day before each game this season, this space will feature one big decision facing Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and his staff, in terms of the game plan.

This week's decision: Should tight end Aaron Hernandez play on Thanksgiving night?

JetsPatriotsWhen Rob Gronkowski broke his forearm in Sunday's win over the Indianapolis Colts, it seemed logical that Aaron Hernandez would return Thursday against the New York Jets to revitalize the offense in Gronkowski's absence.

Indeed, there have been multiple reports that Hernandez could play on Thursday; however, CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora reports that Hernandez is expected to be "active, but limited."

When Hernandez injured his ankle in Week 2, he returned after missing just three games, but suffered a setback in his overall recovery, according to ESPN senior NFL writer John Clayton. That setback is believed to have kept Hernandez out of the last three games.

Without knowing all of Hernandez's medical information, it's difficult to judge if him playing on Thursday would constitute another early return. But in either case, the uncertainty about his status would suggest that he is not fully recovered.

So why risk it? If the Patriots defeat the Jets on Thursday night, they'll be in a dominant position in the AFC East, and would essentially lock up the division with a win over the Miami Dolphins in their next game. But it would be a stretch to say that the next two contests are "must-wins" for the Patriots.

The question then becomes whether the Patriots feel they need to have either Gronkowski or Hernandez to get to the playoffs. What's the point of playing Hernandez on Thursday night if he's only going to have a minor role in the game?

What do you think? Is it essential for the Patriots to play Hernandez now? Or can they beat the Jets without him and Gronk? Do they need either one to make the playoffs?

Join the discussion in the comments section below.