At one point, the New England Patriots feared the worst after T.J. Ward crushed into Rob Gronkowski's knee during New England's 27-26 win over the Cleveland Browns. An MRI on Monday confirmed those fears when reports revealed that the all-star tight end suffered an ACL and MCL tear on Sunday. Gronkowski, who signed an eight-year deal worth $55.24 million in June '12, will have (at least) his sixth operation since signing his extension last year. He has been dealing with back and forearm issues.
How will that impact the Patriots? During the six games that he missed to start the season, the Patriots ranked No. 22 in scoring. In the six games since his return, the Patriots ranked No. 12. Field Yates with ESPN writes about the dynamics of Gronkowski's injury and how that affects the Patriots offense moving forward (In$ider).
It starts with the personnel, as the Patriots have just two other tight ends on the roster (adding another tight end would make sense), veterans Matthew Mulligan and Michael Hoomanawanui, who has missed three straight games due to a knee injury. Neither offers the ability to stretch the field vertically, and while Mulligan is an above-average end-of-the-line run-blocker, Gronkowski at his best blocking is superior to Mulligan. The red zone, as previously alluded to, is where the Patriots will most obviously feel the loss of Gronkowski.
Richard Hill with SB Nation's Pats Pulpit adds:
Without Gronk, the Patriots will have to retinker their offense, again, as they head down the final stretch of the season. Back-ups Matthew Mulligan and Michael Hoomanawanui will likely see their playtime increase, although Ben Volin of the Boston Globe reports that the Patriots will be signing back TE/HB D.J. Williams to take Gronk's soon-to-be vacated roster spot.
While it sucks that a great player suffers a devastating injury (and we hate that it happens to anyone), we're tuned somewhat inward. How will this affect the Bengals?
With New England losing their biggest offensive weapon, outside of Tom Brady, the Patriots have three games remaining against passing defenses ranked in the top-12. Julian Edelman, the team leader in receptions (76), yards (775), and touchdowns (5), will receive as much attention as Danny Amendola, leaving players like Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and even Shane Vereen as New England's secondary threats. Then again, Dobson missed Sunday's game with a foot and Thompkins has been dealing with a hip that forced New England to make a game-time decision against the Browns.
The Bengals and Patriots are No. 2 and No. 3 respectively right now, with both teams aiming for the coveted second seed that gives teams a first-round bye. Currently the Patriots have a one-game lead at 10-3 while the 9-4 Bengals are waiting for New England to slip (while taking care of their own business). If the Patriots and Bengals finish the season with identical records, Cincinnati will earn the first-round bye due to their head-to-head tiebreaker for beating the Patriots 13-6 in week five.
|WEEK 15||AT Pittsburgh Steelers (5-8)||AT Miami Dolphins (7-6)|
|WEEK 16||Minnesota Vikings (3-9-1)||AT Baltimore Ravens (7-6)|
|WEEK 17||Baltimore Ravens (7-6)||Buffalo Bills (4-9)|
|STR. OF SCHED||.397||.462|