People are bringing Patriot’s tight end Rob Gronkowski heat for not being on the field to catch that cash-money TD Tom Brady threw in the closing seconds of Sunday night’s classic against the undefeated New Orleans Saints.  

Rumors are circulating that a growing contingent in the NFL community feel Gronkowski, who has missed the entire season recovering from a series of surgeries on his fractured forearm and ailing back and has been fully participating in workouts, should have suited up for the biggest game of the year.

ESPN’s Ed Werder reported that there’s been “escalated tension” around the team about Gronkowski’s continued absence from the lineup. Werder quotes a source as saying that Gronkowski’s created “curiosity and resentment” by going all out at practice and looking gravy before sitting out on Sunday.  

Those close to his camp want him to be 100 percent healthy before returning. Now everybody is getting testy. This is shaping up like another Derrick Rose situation.

Expect one of Gronk’s siblings to come out and say: “The “Pats aren’t good enough to win a Super Bowl this year anyway, so why should my money-making, brother risk it?”

Let’s hope it stops here and the big fella gets back on the field soon. This is an issue that can open another can of worms about how hypocritical the entire NFL community is when it comes to player safety.

Commissioner Roger Goodell’s claim to fame has been his harsh stance on player safety (he’s changed the rules into practically two-hand touch). He’s been lauded as a pioneer in regards to his proactive stances on researching player concussions and preventing head injuries. The football community has gradually adopted his philosophy and are beginning to accept the merit of his aggressive rule restructuring.  

However, when selfish desires come into play and fans and teammates want players to return from injury at less than full capacity for the “good of the team,” Goodell’s “for the good of the game” mantra gets tossed aside like the last soggy strawberry in a fruit basket.

The NFL has to make its mind up. Is it a league based on the sick entertainment value of barbaric violence, gruesome injury and gladiator-like athleticism? Or is it a gentlemen’s sport cloaked in restricted contact, fear of injury and false bravado?

Most people don’t know, unless it pertains to their squad. If the Patriot’s young receivers failed them on Sunday night, the national inquiry into Gronkowski’s progress would have turned up a notch. The longer he’s out, the more fans will question his heart and desire, as they did Rose.

Perception is everything and Gronkowski’s party animal persona could lead to fans turning on him if his current actions are perceived as “dogging it” or putting money over winning.

Gronk has funked his own self into this corner. It started in February of 2012, with the now infamous video of  a shirtless Gronk (nursing an ankle injury at the time), getting Crunk at a party with LMFAO after losing Super Bowl XLVI in gut-wrenching fashion to the NY Giants.

If his teammates feel that he is slighting them at all, it can begin to cause unrest. It was initially reported that Gronk would suit up for the Saints game, but he still has not been cleared to play by Dr. James Andrews.  

Those wanting further answers will surely be disappointed because the Patriots, who are as cryptic with their dissemination of information—especially injuries—as any team in the NFL, aren’t saying much. In Belichick’s eyes, an injured player is as useless as an empty whiskey bottle is to a drunk, so he’s not going to even be mentioning Gronkowski as he tries to prepare his team for the next game.

There’s no doubt the Pats 14th-ranked offense can use Gronk, who has set NFL records for touchdown catches (17) and receiving yards (1,327) by a tight end in a season (2011). Pats fans, who have made him a social network and media celebrity, blame every dropped pass and missed route on Gronkowski’s absence. The information chain has been lighting up since May in anticipation of his return.

Asked what he and doctors need to see to know that he is ready to return to the field, Gronkowski, keeping with the Patriots way, offered nothing but a poker face.  “[I'm] really just taking it each day at a time and just trying to improve each day at a time,” he told the Boston Globe.

Really, that should be enough for a 24-year-old guy who has battled injuries and multiple surgeries in his brief career. These “softer, gentler” NFL heads should be supporting him and standing by his rehabilitation time frame.

If this was the 1980s when cats played with broken legs and multiple concussions, then of course he plays, but we can’t have it both ways. If the NFL is now about prioritizing progressive, player safety issues, then we have to fall back and let the players make the ultimate decision on when they feel healthy enough to get it crackin’.