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So far in the 2013 season, Rob Gronkowski has missed seven games and he has played in seven games. The Patriots record with Gronkowski is 5-2 and without him is 5-2. The difference this season is the addition of rookies Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins.
The Patriots are a different team with Gronkowski than they are without him. This is pretty well accepted by everyone. However, that doesn’t mean that the team without him should be written off.
The Patriots season could have looked very different were it not for the impact of the two rookies. They helped New England get out to a 5-1 record while they awaited the return of Gronkowski. During that span both receivers were a key part of the offense. Thompkins raked in 21 receptions for 318 yards and four touchdowns. Dobson missed the first game but still had 19 receptions for 230 yards and one touchdown.
In the seventh game the Patriots offense evolved to incorporate the massive offensive weapon that is Gronkowski. While Gronkowski’s return was great news for the Patriots and their season it probably hurt Tom Brady’s development with his two new young targets. Brady was clearly more comfortable with Gronkowski and would target him to a much larger extent than his other receivers. This meant a diminished role for Dobson and more so Thompkins.
Both Dobson and Thompkins have been battling injuries for the past several weeks. They were questionable before the previous game against the Dolphins but were downgraded to out before the start of the game. Considering the Patriots recent history with injury reports it’s difficult to know just how far the two are from being able to play, but the loss of Gronkowski will likely speed up their return.
The team could possibly be 6-1 without Gronkowski had either Dobson or Thompkins been able to play against the Dolphins. In that game, Brady completed passes to seven different players. Of the receivers, Austin Collie was the tallest at six feet. Dobson is six feet three inches tall.
Take into consideration one of the key plays in the game in which Brady hit Danny Amendola in the front corner of the end zone for what looked like the winning touchdown. The pass would have won the game but a Dolphin defender was able to knock the ball out as Amendola tried to secure it to his chest. Amendola is five feet eleven inches tall. Now picture that same pass going to Dobson with his extra four inches. That ball probably doesn’t come anywhere near the defender and the Patriots win the game.
Thompkins is only six feet tall, but the same could be said for him and if you need proof just review the last play of the game against the Saints in week six, in which he caught the game winning touchdown in the final seconds.
The Patriots have two regular season games remaining and they control their own destiny. If they can win out they will clinch the AFC East title for the tenth time in eleven years as well as the second seed in the AFC, which also means a first round bye.
Hopefully Dobson and/or Thompkins will be able to play in the final two games and reignite some chemistry with Brady before the team likely heads into the playoffs. While other AFC teams may be licking their chops at the thought of a Gronkowski-less Patriots, they shouldn’t be too quick to forget that this team is still capable of winning without him.