How Rob Gronkowski’s Back Injury Affects Patriots’ Super Bowl Hopes

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FOXBORO, Mass. — Unfortunately for the New England Patriots, tight end Rob Gronkowski is as injury prone as he is talented.

Gronkowski will undergo surgery for a herniated disk in his back. The Patriots now are left for at least eight weeks with Martellus Bennett, who has ankle and shoulder injuries, and Matt Lengel at tight end. The road to Super Bowl LI just became a bit bumpier.

Fortunately for the Patriots, they’re better set up for an injury to Gronkowski than they ever have been because of Bennett, who, like Gronkowski, is a dual-threat tight end adept at blocking and in the passing game. Unfortunately for the Patriots, they sent tight end AJ Derby to the Denver Broncos for a fifth-round draft pick before the trade deadline.

Lengel is a blocking option while Derby is more of a receiving threat. The Patriots also have tight end Kennard Backman on their practice squad, but he wasn’t at practice Thursday.

The Patriots are 3-0 in games without Gronkowski this season. Gronkowski also barely played in Weeks 3 and 12 against the Houston Texans and New York Jets, respectively, and the Patriots won both of those games. So, it’s not as if all hope for another Super Bowl run now is out of the question. And the eight-week timeframe would put Gronkowski on pace to play in the Super Bowl with a week to spare.

But can the Patriots get there without him?

They should have no problem beating the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday and the Jets on Dec. 24. Their Week 14 matchup with the Baltimore Ravens becomes more difficult without Gronkowski, but they’ll likely still be favored at home. The Patriots might not be favored on the road in Week 15 against the Denver Broncos and in Week 17 against the Miami Dolphins. If the Patriots finish the season 12-4, there’s a decent chance they would have to go on the road to win a playoff game at some point. If they can finish 14-2 or 13-3, there’s a better chance for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Beyond Bennett stepping up, the Patriots’ wide receivers also need to take on bigger roles. The Patriots will have to rely on three-receiver and two-running back sets. They’ll lean on Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell and Danny Amendola at receiver and James White and Dion Lewis as pass-catching backs.

Mitchell, a rookie, has had two monster weeks with Gronkowski out of the offense. He’s caught nine passes for 140 yards with three touchdowns in the Patriots’ last two games. He and Hogan can help replace Gronkowski in the vertical passing game.

Gronkowski’s injury certainly limits the upside for the Patriots’ offense. They won’t be as high-powered as originally thought this season, and Patriots fans only were able to experience half of a quarter with Lewis and Gronkowski healthy. But hopes for another Super Bowl win aren’t out of the question as long as their star tight end can return in eight weeks.

Thumbnail photo via Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports Images

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