Aaron Hernandez’s Loss Will Sting Much More Than Stephen Gostkowski’s Missed Field Goal Ever Could

Aaron Hernandez's Loss Will Sting Much More Than Stephen Gostkowski's Missed Field Goal Ever CouldThings didn't go well for the Patriots
offense from the get-go during Sunday's home opener, and they only got worse as
the game went on.

Tom Brady threw an interception on the
Patriots very first play from scrimmage on the afternoon, and kicker Stephen
Gostkowski
missed a 42-yard game-winning field goal with six seconds left as
the Cardinals left Gillette Stadium with a 20-18 win. But even given the crushing
loss on Sunday, it was a different type of loss that could ultimately hurt a
lot worse.

Aaron Hernandez went down hard and fast
on the Patriots' second drive of the day, falling to the grass in pain after
teammate Julian Edelman had unintentionally rolled up on the back of his right
leg. Hernandez knew something was wrong right away, remaining down on the
ground and awaiting the Patriots' training staff to come and check out his
ankle.

After a couple minutes on the ground,
Hernandez was helped to the sidelines and could be seen grimacing as he tried
to put weight down on the injured joint. The 22-year-old tight end was
immediately taken to the New England locker room for X-rays and to undergo
further testing. Fortunately all signs seemed to indicate the ankle wasn't
broken
,
but given how serious the injury looked, the outlook isn't very promising — at
least for the near future.

A high ankle sprain, which is the more
likely diagnosis if there is no break — although, I'm no doctor — could
still mean that Hernandez will miss a good chunk of time. And that reality
would be difficult to process for the Patriots, especially after seeing the offense
stumble without Hernandez's steadying presence.

Hernandez's teammates know how
important he is to their weekly success on offense, and they were quick to
acknowledge it after spending three-plus quarters without him.

"He’s a great player and we need
him," fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski said.

Need is a strong word, but a reasonable
one when considering Hernandez's importance in all facets of the Patriots'
offensive scheme. Hernandez offers the ability to run, catch and block at an
elite level, showing each of them off with six catches for 59 yards and a
touchdown in New England's Week 1 win over the Titans.

It's tough, almost impossible, to
replace his production — something quite evident in Sunday's abysmal
performance — but it's something the Patriots know they'll have to deal with
in his stead.

"He's a really tough guy to match
up against and I think everybody across the board has got to pick up the slack
and make some plays out there in his place," Wes Welker said of Hernandez after the loss.

Brady was realistic about the nature of
injuries in the NFL, but he was very direct about the offensive duties in
Hernandez's absence and used Sunday's loss as a barometer.

"I'm sure [Hernandez is] not going
to be the only one we lose this year at some point," Brady said. "But
we have to figure out a way to still move the ball effectively throughout the
course of the game — enough where we can score more than 18 points."

The offense had a difficult time
finding consistency without Hernandez on the field, but if someone doesn't step
up in his loss will sting a whole lot more than Sunday's last-second defeat
ever could.

Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him
via Twitter at @LukeFHughes or send it here.

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