On Thursday night Aaron Hernandez played his first game for the New England Patriots since October 21. In a dominating 49-19 win over the New York Jets the star tight end looked healthy for the first time since his week two ankle injury. After losing Rob Gronkowski last week against the Indianapolis Colts, Hernandez’s return makes life earlier for the Patriots.
In 2011 the Patriots began using Hernandez and Gronkowski very effectively in the passing game. With a lack of options at wide receiver, the tight end duo became primary receivers for quarterback Tom Brady. Opposing defenses had trouble matching up with the pair of Pro Bowlers which created great success for the eventual AFC champions. This unique passing game has become common place this season being copied by several other teams in the league.
In week two Hernandez suffered an ankle injury which kept him out for the following three weeks. He returned for the next two games but played sparingly and clearly was not 100 percent. After sitting out for the last two weeks and speculation high that he was far from return, Hernandez played 57 plays Thursday night and looked the healthiest he’s been since the injury.
With Hernandez out for much of this season, the Patriots had to adjust their passing offense. The absence of one of the two headed monster was tough on the AFC East leaders but they still had their other star Gronkowski. That was until last week when, after having been pulled from the offense late in the fourth quarter against the Colts, Gronkowski injured his forearm forcing him from the game. The injury to his arm required surgery which will keep him out for at least three weeks.
With both Hernandez and Gronkowski injured it looked as though the Patriots would have to scramble to put a solid tight end on the field. The other three tight ends on the roster include one that’s been injured most of the season and two with little experience in the league. But then it was revealed that Hernandez would be active for Thursday night’s game.
Hernandez’s performance Thursday night will be a breath of fresh air for the Patriots who had seemed to be falling into an injury problem at the worst possible time. They lead the AFC East and look to be destined for the postseason once again. That’s a destination that was in question just a short time ago. But if injuries were to keep piling up, their trip could be diverted. Instead the return of Hernandez allows the Patriots to wait for Gronkowski’s return without panic making life in New England a bit easier.