DENVER — As injuries continue to ravage the New England Patriots on both sides of the ball, it appears they finally caught a break.
The initial reaction from Patriots fans Sunday night after tight end Rob Gronkowski took a shot to his right knee and writhed in pain on the Sports Authority Field at Mile High turf was doom and gloom — pessimism that only comes when one understandably expects the worst.
Gronkowski was in the Patriots’ locker room when media arrived, and he was bending over and walking around — slowly but without a limp. He didn’t appear to have a brace on his knee, either. As for why he was seen rolling around in pain after the play? Perhaps the big tight end was scared, much like his biggest supporters. Perhaps the shot he took to his knee felt similar to the one he took in 2013 that ultimately wound up costing the Patriots a Super Bowl appearance.
The only season-ending injuries the Patriots can’t endure this year are ones to Gronkowski and quarterback Tom Brady. If Gronkowski’s injury really is less serious than feared, it seems the Patriots dodged a bullet Sunday night. Their undefeated hopes were dashed to the Broncos, but their Super Bowl hopes remain alive.
The Patriots were down Gronkowski, wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower, running back Dion Lewis and left tackle Nate Solder, among others, in their loss to the Broncos. They threw the game away after leading 21-7 early in the fourth quarter, thanks in part to a muffed punt by undrafted rookie wide receiver Chris Harper, allowing the Broncos to quickly move 36 yards down the field to score a touchdown.
There was little excuse for throwing the ball on first-and-10 with 2:53 left in the game on the play in which Gronkowski was injured, but the Patriots’ running game had been anemic to that point. And not only were the Patriots fending off the Broncos but the officials as well. Gronkowski was flagged for a phantom pass interference penalty with 5:22 left on what would have been a key first down, and the officials later missed an illegal hands to the face call when Broncos guard Evan Mathis shoved defensive end Chandler Jones in the facemask on Denver’s go-ahead touchdown with 1:09 left in the fourth quarter.
Between the injuries, penalties and poor decisions, there’s little doubt this was a game the Patriots could have, if not should have, won.
When Amendola, Edelman, Gronkowski, Hightower and Collins are back on the field, the Patriots again will be the best team in the NFL. Until then, they might have to fight through some tough games on their way to the postseason.
Thumbnail photo via Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Nov 29, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) is carted off the field after being injured during the second half against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos won 30-24. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports