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Are the Patriots Still Legitimate Super Bowl Contenders Without TE Rob Gronkowski?

Rob Gronkowski

The New England Patriots may have won their game against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, but they suffered a devastating injury to one of the most important players on the team. Star tight end Rob Gronkowski suffered a season-ending injury and was placed on injured reserve with a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee. Just when the offense seemed to be making some progress and actually clicking (in the second half of games at least), the Gronkowksi injury could just be the one the Patriots are not able to overcome.

The story of the Patriots all season has been overcoming season-ending injuries to impact players such as Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo. The Patriots have done fairly well getting by without those two stars but they also have more depth in those positions. The difference with the Gronkowski injury is that there is no depth at the tight end position and no one to replace, or even come close to replacing, the production of Gronkowski. With Gronkowski done for the rest of the season, can the Patriots overcome his injury and still be a legitimate playoff team or are their chances of winning the Super Bowl all but a dream now?

Before the unfortunate Gronkowski injury, the Patriots were legitimate Super Bowl contenders. However, now with the season-ending injury to their tight end, their chances of winning the Super Bowl have gone from good to very, very slim. That is not to say it will be impossible because with Tom Brady under center and Bill Belichick on the sideline, nothing is impossible. However, the odds are stacked against the Patriots now, especially with their mediocre defense. I have the utmost faith in the Patriots but I also am realistic. I just do not believe they have enough weapons on offense to overcome this injury to be legitimate contenders.

Gronkowski’s Impact on Patriots Offense

The Patriots already have experience playing this season without their tight end as Gronkowski sat out the first six weeks of the season due to off-season surgeries. The first six weeks without Gronkowski were ugly but the team always just found a way to win. Without Gronkowski, the Patriots were 5-1. However, the statistics with Gronkowski in the game prove just how valuable to the offense he is. Here are just some of the areas that will be negatively impacted by Gronkowksi’s absence:

  • Scoring: The Patriots offense ranked on the middle of the pack but once Gronkowski returned to the line-up, the offense ranked in the top ten in most categories. During the first six weeks of the season without Gronkowksi, the Patriots offense ranked 22nd in scoring; in the weeks since his return, they have jumped up to sixth in scoring, putting up the second-most points in the league during that span. Coincidence? I think not.
  • Redzone Production: One area the offense will suffer without Gronkowski is in the redone, as his efficiency in that area is undeniable. Before his return, the Patriots scored touchdowns on a mere 9-of-22 on redzone trips, but the success rate nearly doubled to 19-of-28 in the redzone with Gronkowski in the game.
  • Reliability: Since returning to the line-up six weeks ago, Gronkowski has caught 39 passes for 592 yards and four touchdowns. In half the season, Gronkowski has already contributed more than what some other receivers who played the whole season have managed to contribute. Only Julian Edelman has more touchdowns (five) and receiving yards (775) than Gronkowski. He tops the next leading receiver, Aaron Dobson, in receiving by 100 yards! Those numbers are pretty telling of how much of a difference maker Gronkowski is to the offense. Not only that, but he is Brady’s security blanket. Before Gronkowski’s return, Brady had a completion percentage of just 56.9, but since then it has jumped to 64.7 percent. Brady was also only averaging 6.2 yards per attempt (the lowest of his career) without his star tight end, but that number has since jumped to 7.7 yards per attempt.
  • Match-Up Nightmare and Physicality: Gronkowski, when healthy, is a match-up nightmare for his opponents because of his physical presence. At 6’6”, 285 pounds, he has the physical advantage in most match-ups. He has the size and speed that require defenses to pay more attention to him, allowing other receivers to be open and providing Brady with more weapons. He also uses his size as a great run blocker, allowing for more options on offense.

Now without Gronkowski in the equation, the Patriots will be easier to defend and their chances of reaching the Super Bowl will grow dimmer and dimmer.

How Will the Patriots Move Forward Without Gronkowski?

The Patriots all season have somehow found a way to win and just barely put up more points than their opponents despite numerous injuries. Once they reach the playoffs, that kind of slow start and just escaping with wins will not suffice, especially without one of the best tight ends in the league.

It is obvious Gronkowski is irreplaceable but none of the other “weapons” even compare to what he brings to the Patriots offense. The other two tight ends, Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan, are mere second thoughts. Only Shane Vereen and Edelman are consistently reliable, but those two will not be enough to lift the offense to a championship caliber level. Stevan Ridley will probably see more playing time now because the Patriots will need a running game to make up for  the loss of Gronkowski. Even if Ridley is able to hang onto the ball for the rest of the season, that will not be enough overcome the loss of one of their greatest offensive weapons.

Without a great defense to complement the offense, the Patriots’ chances of winning the Super Bowl departed on that cart with Gronkowski. Even worse, if the Patriots do not secure a bye-week, they just might be a one-and-done team this year. Maybe the Patriots will pull off some kind of miracle and surprise us all, but for now let’s just take it game by game and hope for the best.

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