By Hal Bent
The New England Patriots pulled out an improbable victory over the Cleveland Browns on a wintery December evening at Gillette Stadium in what was supposed to be a blowout of an inferior team by the Patriots mighty offense. Instead, the Patriots were shut out in the first half, lost tight end Rob Gronkowski for the season, and needed a most implausible ending involving an onside kick, a home team friendly pass interference penalty, and a last gasp winning field goal attempt by Cleveland falling just short.
What was most important in the Patriots’ pyrrhic victory was that the Patriots won the game to stay ahead of Cincinnati for the No. 2 playoff spot and bye in the AFC but lost their most valuable offensive weapon. After tight end Rob Gronkowskireturned from his multiple offseason surgeries, the Patriots emerged as a potential Super Bowl competitor after knocking off Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. With Gronkowski in the lineup for a few weeks the team looked like an elite offense. However, the question after yet another injury to the freakishly talented Gronkowski becomes: Can the Patriots survive the loss of Rob Gronkowski?
Since Rob Gronkowski first returned from the PUP (physically unable to perform) list following his multiple off-season forearm and back surgeries for the Patriots’ Week 7 game against the New York Jets, Gronkowski has been on the receiving end of 39 passes for 592 yards and four touchdowns from quarterback Tom Brady.
There simple fact is that isn’t a player on the New England roster who is capable of stepping up and replacing Gronkowski at tight end just as there was no tight end capable of replacing Aaron Hernandez this offseason. Michael Hoomanawanui is a good role player and Matthew Mulligan is a capable backup but neither is going to be the number one target for quarterback Tom Brady. New England’s wide receivers, and especially running back Shane Vereen, have to be able to step up and contribute for the rest of the season.
The good news for New England is that preparing for life without Gronkowski is not uncharted territory for the Patriots’ offensive coaching staff. The offense was without tight end Rob Gronkowski for five of the final six games of the 2012 season, basically the entire playoffs, and the first six games of this season: that is almost half of the games (15 of 34 total games) dating back through last season. Once again they face the all-too-familiar situation.
Without Gronkowski, the emphasis is getting the rookie wide receivers healthy again and back in rhythm with quarterback Tom Brady...click here for much more: http://cover32.com/patriots/2013/12/13/can-the-patriots-survive-the-loss-of-gronkowski/