Last week the AFC leading Patriots (10-2) received news that their star tight end, Rob Gronkowski would need season ending back surgery after re-aggravating it during the Patriots 22-17 win over the New York Jets two weeks ago. The initial injury could be traced back from a big hit sustained by Seahawks safety, Earl Thomas.
This injury news isn’t new to a fan base that has seen Gronkowski sustain several injuries throughout his career.
Even before entering the league, teams were reluctant to take a chance on the talented, but injury prone tight end. Eventually he was picked by the Patriots in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft. Since entering the league the injury riddled Gronkowski has been a huge part of the Patriots offense. With Gronkowski, the team has scored 100 more TD’s compared to when Gronkowski is out. Gronkowski also is the all time leader in the NFL scoring 69 touchdowns for a player at the position, which he broke earlier this season against the Buffalo Bills. Since joining the Patriots, Gronkowski has taken over and quickly become thought of as one of the greatest tight ends to ever play the game. At six feet, six inches tall and weighing over 260 pounds, there is no wonder Gronkowski has become the favorite target in the red zone for quarterback Tom Brady. Now for a Patriots team that has relied so heavily on their star tight end, especially during the playoffs, the question must be answered whether the Patriots can win without him.
History without Gronkowski
During the 22 games that Gronkowski has missed during his career, the Patriots have faired pretty well. During the regular season they recorded a 14-5 record in his abscense. In the playoffs, the Patriots are 1-2 without Gronkowski with losses coming to the Broncos in 2014 and the Ravens in 2013.
The Patriots are currently pretty limited at the TE position besides backup, Martellus Bennett, who was looked as being a 1-2 punch alongside, Gronkowski. Before becoming a member of the Patriots, Bennett enjoyed his best seasons in the league as a member of the Chicago Bears, scoring 14 of his 27 career touchdowns over the three-years. Since being traded from the Bears last offseason, he has scored four touchdowns in his limited role as Gronkowski’s backup. Now that Gronkowski is out, Bennett will be in a more familiar role as the starting tight end, which should bode well for the Patriots in trying to replace Gronkowski.
Another possible option is continuing to make the running game a priority. Right now the Patriots are ranked seventh in the league for rushing yards with just over 1200 yards through week 13. Legarrette Blount, who has already scored 12 touchdowns is a big part that success. Making sure that he continues to get enough carries during the rest of the season will be key, especially during the playoffs, where every second counts. The ability to run the ball will also open up the option for play-action plays, which will make the already lethal offense stronger.
While all these options are viable, the Patriots are still the leaders of the AFC and are an elite organization, led by mastermind head coach, Bill Belichick, who has proven time and time again, that it is the team, not individual players, who win the games. And come February 5, he could prove that once again.