Luckily, Hernandez won't be out for long. He's expected to be lost for a few weeks with a high ankle sprain and could return as early as October. Still, Hernandez was supposed to be a key contributor on this New England offense and he'll be very difficult — if not impossible — to replace.
On Sunday, Wes Welker was the first man off the bench — why he was on the bench in the first place is a common question in Patriots nation — and he stepped in admirably with five receptions and 95 yards. Still, Welker had a key drop in the third quarter that lead to a blocked punt and caught less than half the passes he was targeted on. Welker can't replace Hernandez's blocking or his ability to carry the ball out of the backfield, but if Welker can get replicate last year's bloated stats, it would go a long way in replacing the young tight end.
Brandon Lloyd doesn't look like he's been on the same page as Tom Brady so far in this young season. He has 13 receptions for 129 yards, but the free agent acquisition was expected to be an intermediate-to-deep threat, not another shallow target. Brady and Lloyd haven't been able to hit on a deep pass yet this year, but he's one of the best wide receivers in the league in gaining separation and locating the ball in the air. If he can bring those skills to New England he and Brady could become a force.
Rob Gronkowski was having a quiet game on Sunday until the fourth quarter when Brady started targeting him more. Gronkowski has to serve double duty as a blocker, and doesn't have quite the versatility that Hernandez offers, but he's a monster in the red zone with 17 touchdowns last year. Gronkowski is on his way to another stellar season with two touchdowns this year, and may need to step up his game even more in the receiving game. Many analysts predicted Gronkowski could have a statistical drop-off this year if Hernandez emerged, but with one half of the tight end tandem out, Gronkowski could outproduce last year.
So which one is the most important moving forward without Hernandez?