MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — It turns out losing tight end Rob Gronkowski was the breaking point for the 2017 New England Patriots.
There’s good news: This isn’t a long-term problem.
And the bad? The Patriots now are 10-3 and will need to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 15 then potentially run the table to win the No. 1 seed in the AFC. It’s definitely not impossible, but it also raises the difficulty level for the Patriots in the postseason.
The list of Patriots missing Monday night’s game at Hard Rock Stadium is almost comical: Gronkowski (suspended), wide receiver Julian Edelman (injured reserve), linebacker Dont’a Hightower (injured reserve), wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell (injured reserve), linebacker Shea McClellin (injured reserve), defensive end Derek Rivers (injured reserve), offensive tackle Marcus Cannon (ankle), linebacker Kyle Van Noy (calf) and defensive end Trey Flowers (rib). And there are nine more players that either were inactive with injuries or on reserve lists we didn’t name.
Obviously the Patriots have been doing pretty well without Edelman, Hightower, Mitchell and Rivers. But throw Gronkowski, Van Noy and Flowers into that mix, and at some point that last piece of straw will eventually break the camel’s back. That’s what happened Monday night against a team the Patriots were favored over by double-digit points.
With Gronkowski out, the Dolphins’ defense’s attention was placed on the Patriots’ receivers. They weren’t open, so Brady dinked and dunked to running backs until he got frustrated on third-and-long and heaved it deep to either Brandin Cooks or Chris Hogan. It worked once, when Cooks drew a defensive pass interference. Otherwise, Brady was 0-for-4 with two interceptions on his third-down desperation chucks. The Patriots didn’t convert on a single third-down play. They were 0-for-11. The Patriots’ offense remained rudderless despite its defense providing plenty of opportunities to get back into the game.
Here’s the deal, though: The Patriots will be fine. Gronkowski will be back in Week 15, and the offense will look like itself again. At some point, Flowers and Van Noy will return, and the Patriots won’t be forced to rely on Jonathan Freeny, Marquis Flowers and Trevor Reilly to fill in along the front seven.
These aren’t long-term issues, unless the Patriots can’t kickoff a closeout to the season by beating the Steelers on Sunday. Then this loss becomes more important.
There’s no need to panic, and no one should write off the Patriots’ season based on one game without their second most important offensive player and their two best front-seven defenders.
The Patriots typically lose a game they shouldn’t. And the offense obviously is going to struggle to move the ball without Gronkowski when Edelman also isn’t around to be Brady’s security blanket. We’ll also take the L, because perhaps we should have seen this loss coming.