The New England Patriots have boasted the best offense in the NFL during 2012. Meanwhile, they’ve continued to struggle on defense. With Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez both out possibly for the remainder of the regular season, the Patriots will limp into the postseason.
Last year the Patriots decided to adjust their offense. With low production by the wide receivers, the Patriots decided to focus their passing attack on their two young tight ends, Gronkowski and Hernandez. The new system was very effective with opposing defenses unable to cover both receivers and started a new trend in the league.
In week two against the Arizona Cardinals, Hernandez suffered an ankle injury. After missing three games, he returned to play a minimal role in the offense over the following two weeks. Since those two games, he has yet to return which indicates the Patriots brought the star tight end back before he was ready. It’s still unknown when he may be ready to return to game action.
Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, the Patriots had taken control late and Gronkowski had been taken out of the game for offensive plays. But on the team’s final extra point of the game, the tight end suffered a broken forearm. He had surgery on Monday and will likely be out for a few weeks. This injury comes after it looked like Gronkowski had finally returned to his 2011 form. After having surgery on his ankle in the offseason, it took a while to return to his old production but right before the injury it looked as though he had.
The Patriots currently sit at 7-3 and lead the AFC East by three games. The reason why the Patriots have that record is because of their offense. The Patriots defense this season has resided in the bottom half of the league giving up 388.7 yards and 22.5 points per game. The Patriots offense has led the league in yards and points per game this season which is what has them at the top of the AFC East.
The Patriots have six games remaining in the regular season. Four of those games are very winnable under normal circumstances but may be put into question with these injuries. Those games will be at the New York Jets, at the Miami Dolphins, at the Jacksonville Jaguars, and hosting the Dolphins. The other two are against the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers which are tough matchups with a healthy team.
The Patriots best option to keep their momentum going would be to rely more on the running game of Stevan Ridley but that’s unlikely to happen. While Ridley has had multiple games this season where he has surpassed 100 yards, the Patriots continue to be very inconsistent with the number of times they give him the ball instead choosing to pass.
Some positive news for the Patriots is that they still have Pro Bowl receivers Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker. In addition, receiver Julian Edelman had a breakout game Sunday which indicates he may finally reach the potential he showed in his rookie year of 2009. These players will be forced to play at a very high level for the Patriots offense to continue producing near their current numbers.
With a weakened offense and still struggling defense, the Patriots will limp into the postseason as AFC East champions. The other teams in the division currently sit at 4-6 and are likely too far back to catch the division leaders. But momentum heading into the postseason means a lot in the NFL and that could be the undoing of the Patriots this season.