Sunday, the New England Patriots looked to continue their road to the playoffs and improve their chances at home field advantage with a win over the Cleveland Browns. As many games have proven for New England this season, it wasn’t nearly as easy as it should have been.
The Patriots’ offense wasn’t exactly “clicking” in the first half, but in the third quarter their hopes of getting it going took a huge hit when tight end Rob Gronkowski was carted off the field. Gronkowski had just caught a pass and was tackled by T.J. Ward, who dove to make the stop and led with his helmet, straight into Gronkowski’s right knee.
Gronkowski was in instant, visible pain and stayed on the ground for quite a while before the cart drove out to help him to the locker room. This knee injury is now the third significant area Gronkowski has had problems with in the last year, as he came off of surgeries on his arm and back this offseason.
When Gronkowski returned this season, the Patriots’ offense was instantly given a new dimension. Linebackers had to keep their attention on the tight end no matter what formation or personnel was on the field for New England. The secondary is always worried about having to defend and tackle a guy with Gronkowski’s size and athleticism. He gives Tom Brady that security blanket on every down.
Without their big tight end, the Patriots don’t have enough depth at the position to make up for what he brought to the table. If Gronkowski is out an extended time, which looked very likely from the way he was hit, then the Patriots’ chances of making a deep playoff run take an enormous blow.
Updated: ESPN has Reported that Gronkowski likely tore his ACL.
Brady was able to get by early on this year without his top target, but against the AFC’s elite he will quickly realize that he does not have enough to keep up offensively. Gronkowski is that important that if he isn’t on the field, New England’s offense looks like a totally different animal. They don’t want to depend on the run game as much as they will have to, but Gronkowski’s absence will force the Patriots to switch up their game plan in a significant way.
Though the Patriots came back, led by an unbelievable fourth quarter effort from Brady and his crew, the loss of Gronkowski will most certainly hurt them as they try to keep their hopes alive for a championship this season.