Jan 13, 2013; Foxboro, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez (81) is chased by Houston Texans defensive back Brandon Harris (26) during the second half of the AFC divisional round playoff game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Gronk injury highlights Patriots depth, resolve

Rob Gronkowski’s comeback amounted to little more than a cameo appearance.

The New England Patriots have been without their freakishly athletic Tight End for the better part of the second half of the season, so they adjusted and moved on – to a 4-1 record without the man-child, the only loss being the epic Sunday night game against the 49ers…

…and in that game, Tom Brady and the Patriots overcame a comedy of errors to absolutely shred San Francisco’s defense – erasing a 31-3 deficit in little more than 14 minutes only to lose a heartbreaker

So when Gronkowski stopped by for a cup of coffee and another broken arm Sunday night, it was almost like a cordial get together to send a friend off on a summer cruise…

…not that his Patriots teammates don’t care about his health – they happen to care very deeply – but that they know they can get along without him, a very thick silver lining from the initial break which happened in a game against the Colts a month and a half ago.

“I said a long, hard prayer for that dude,” Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib  said after the Patriots dismantled the Houston Texans 41-28. “It’s hard losing him.”

There already had been speculation that his arm wasn’t fully healed, given the manner in which he awkwardly tried protecting it in the season finale against the Dolphins.  His catching was spot on, but his blocking looked like he was Icarus coming in for a crash landing – it just wasn’t right.

At first it was assumed that he was either just subconsciously keeping the broken wing out of the scrum or had a real psychological thing going on…but the more film that was watched, the more it became obvious that he was out there as damaged goods, trying to come back and help his teammates despite playing on just one good arm.

But his teammates don’t need any help.  Sure it would be awesome to have him out there, but the Patriots may be the only team in the NFL that can take this kind of a hit and barely miss a beat.

“Obviously we have that next man up mentality, no matter who gets hurt,” inside  linebacker Jarod Mayo said. “My rookie year, Tom got hurt and we won 11  games. Any time we’re not at full strength and we don’t have all of our guys  that we want on the field out there, it’s obviously disappointing. But we have  other guys who are waiting to get an opportunity to play. Hopefully those guys  step in and fill in nicely.”

Obviously, Tom Brady is just fine no matter who he has in there.  After Gronkowski went down early in the game, the five time AFC Champion kept with the game plan, throwing for a whopping 244 yards with two or more tight end sets, and used more than one tight end on 85% of their plays.

Third tight end Michael Hoomanawanui had another solid game in Gronkowski’s stead, an absolute load in run blocking and pass protection.  He hasn’t had the type of receiving production of a Gronkowski, but there are other capable players to pick up that slack – which gives a measure of the toughness of this team.

“That’s been the mark of our team,” said Quarterback Tom Brady after the game “We’ve won 11 of 12. We were down 31-3 at home and battled back. I think we’re going to be in it. We have a lot of  tough guys, mentally tough guys. Whatever happens, you’ve got to overcome  it.”

So now, they have to figure out a way to overcome the Baltimore Ravens and their back alley thug defense without a Rob Gronkowski to throw to – but in Patriot Land, someone will step up.

Someone always does.

Tags: Baltimore Ravens Houston Texans New England Patriots

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