When the Patriots moved on from their comeback win over the New Orleans Saints, and sixth consecutive week without tight end Rob Gronkowski, they were one of the worst red zone teams in the NFL.
We are talking Jacksonville level bad. According to TeamRankings.com's red zone stats, they were 31st in the league in red zone scoring percentage (we're talking touchdowns) at just 35.29%.
Obviously this was concerning considering that this was one of the best redzone scoring teams in 2012, at a clip of 67.50%. A lot of that 2012 success had to do with budding star runner Stevan Ridley and all-pro tight end Gronkowski, who has already caught as many total touchdowns as any pass catcher Brady has thrown to in his career (39), and that is in only three seasons and three games.
Gronk only has one touchdown in the three games he's played this year, and it did indeed come in the redzone. But, just one redzone touchdown doesn't mean he hasn't helped much there. The run game also benefits from the star tight end's blocking, and the fact that he demands so much attention opens things up for other receivers.
In the last three games, with Gronk on the field (albeit with limited snaps) the Patriots red zone offense has dramatically improved, as they have scored a touchdown on 71.43% of redzone attempts. The Pats have gone from 31st in the league, to 19th.
It's not all Gronowski, of course, Ridley has seen his playing time go up recently, and has 4 touchdowns since Gronk has returned. Still, the results cannot be ignored, Gronk has come to save the day in the red area. They'll need to have more success there this week when they travel to Carolina to take on the stout Panthers defense.