The Patriots’ locker room was a fun, exciting place to be after Sunday night’s divisional playoff win over the Houston Texans. Music was booming, players were joking with one another and the calming relief of victory seemed to set a cheerful glaze over the room — that is until the reality of Rob Gronkowski‘s injury set in.
Gronkowski reinjured his broken left forearm during the first quarter of Sunday’s win, all but officially ending his postseason. The loss leaves the Patriots without arguably their most dangerous offensive weapon, and forces other players to step up in his place. The Patriots have been in this situation once before, but this time they’re prepared for life without No. 87.
During last year’s Super Bowl, the Patriots were forced to use Gronkowski as nothing more than a decoy, as he was severely inhibited by a lingering ankle injury. The entire 2011 season leading up to that game was built around Gronk and his ability to open up the offense both through the air and on the ground. This time, the Patriots have some experience without their dynamic pass-catching machine — five games, in fact — and they’re well prepared for his absence.
“Sure. I think we put much more time in this year than we — for example, like last year, when we played the Super Bowl, it was our first game without him in two years,” Tom Brady said during an appearance on WEEI’s Dennis and Callahan on Monday. “Not that that’s any excuse because there are no excuses, but there’s an uncertainty of how guys are going to play and step in. Well we know now, we know the types of packages we’ll use and what we’ll do and the different ways we’ll try to find some weakness in the defense based on our groups and so forth.”
Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker give the Patriots three proven receiving options to account for Gronk’s absence in the passing game, and the presence of tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui and Daniel Fells will certainly help take care of the blocking element. The Patriots are covered in terms of personnel, but it appears that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels‘ role in making adjustments might be quite crucial as well.
“That’s what Josh does better than anybody else that I’ve been around; his ability to adjust like he’s done all season,” Brady added. “That’s just the way it’s gone. I think we’ve played a bunch of games now, we’ve never really been fully healthy, and obviously now won’t be, but you know what? We’ve still got a very good team and there’s different guys that step up and make those big time plays, whether it’s Wes [Welker] or Brandon [Lloyd] or Deion [Branch] or Shane [Vereen] or Rid [Stevan Ridley] or Woody [Danny Woodhead], Aaron Herandez had another big game. They’ve got to stop all of us, and that’s what we’ve got to continue to do this week.”
Replacing Gronk won’t be easy, no matter how many weapons the Patriots have tucked away in the stable. But Brady’s confidence is reassuring, and at least this time he and the offense are aptly prepared to incur the loss.
Now, the question becomes not if the Patriots can win the Super Bowl, but whether they can win it without Gronkowski.