With one of the more tumultuous regular seasons in Tom Brady’s career coming to an end, the New England Patriots must prepare for another immaculate playoff run; this time without Rob Gronkowski.
The New England Patriots are one incredible playoff run away from exonerating the naysayers and putting an end to the hoopla surrounding Bill Belichick’s controversial decision-making. The problem is they’ll have to do it without Rob Gronkowski; arguably the greatest tight end in NFL history.
It’s no question Tom Brady was a middle-of-the-pack flamethrower this year. The proverbial GOAT (at least according to most of Massachusetts) carries an 88 QBR into the playoffs, which ranks 23rd in the entire NFL, and worst of his career since 2013 when the Denver Broncos bested the Pats in the AFC Championship game.
There’s an eery similarity between those two years, one that keeps Patriot fans like me up at night. It’s no coincidence that Brady’s least efficient years throwing the football happened without Rob Gronkowski destroying teams like a real-life Thanos.
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During 2013, the spike-tacular tight end suffered an arm fracture and back vertebral fracture that sidelined him until Week 7 of that year.
The icing on the cake came when he tore his ACL, MCL, and suffered a concussion on the same play in a Dec. 8 game against the Cleveland Browns. The latter ailments officially sidelined him for the playoffs, putting a monumental dent in the offensive regime.
Fast forward three Super Bowls, a million personnel changes, one Deflategate, and one Spygate later, and the New England Patriots find themselves in familial territory without the otherworldly Hall-of-Famer. Except this time he’s not coming back for good.
Instead, Gronk is a retired man living a luxurious post-football life only a few have lived (which is pretty incredible considering his large injury list).
He most recently appeared on “Dick Clarke’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve” program slamming a Steve Harvey lego head to the ground, thus initiating 40 excruciatingly awkward seconds with the real Steve Harvey, and audible boos from the New York crowd (as expected).
Per usual, the effervescent Gronk was wrapped up in his own world enjoying the phenomenal atmosphere as 2019 came to an end.
Belichick and Brady have struggled to find any sort of offensive rhythm without Rob Gronkowski. The wide receiving core is as thin as it has ever been, with Julian Edelman and Mohamed Sanu trying their best to carry the weight for an otherwise unheralded 2019 squad.
Rookie N’Keal Harry has shown signs of flashiness on the perimeter, but rarely is he targeted more than four times per game. As a whole, no one outside of Edelman has had more than 100 yards receiving in a game this year. That list includes Jakobi Meyers, Phillip Dorsett, as well as Sanu.
The tight end situation is much worse as third-year player Matt Lacosse only has 131 total yards all year, while the immortal Benjamin Watson looks marginally better catching the ball, but still has under 200 yards receiving himself.
The lack of production from both of these guys has resulted in a stunted year for running back Sony Michel, who looks awful one game (4 rushes for 18 yards against Baltimore) and great another (he looked a lot sharper in that Week 16 Buffalo game).
It doesn’t help when Brady’s arm is becoming as sturdy as a string of spaghetti. Part of his drop in efficiency is his obvious age, while part of it is a revolving door of inexperienced receivers.
Bill Belichick is seemingly either toying around, devising some genius plan once again or simply not understanding the implications for some of his decision-making this year.
Brady has not been able to develop a stout rapport with any one of his younger receivers because there’s that growing sense of expendability hovering over their heads.
From the Antonio Brown drama to the head-scratching Josh Gordon cut (at least at the time), it’s been tough for a 42-year-old Brady to develop chemistry. His yards per attempt are the lowest it’s been since 2002 when he was still unproven as a thrower and game manager.
I literally stand up in amazement every time he throws the ball for 20-plus yards now. It’s about as common as a Cincinnati Bengals win.
As the New England Patriots prepare for an unexpected (and very annoying) wild card game against a feisty Tennessee Titans team, one should wonder how they’ll get it all together.
That Miami Dolphins loss was the antithesis to the euphoria Patriot fans felt a week prior in a win against a hard-nosed Buffalo team. We know their defense has the personnel to stop the incredible Derrick Henry, but there’s still a lot to be desired heading into Saturday.
We also know the Pats have been underdogs before. Rob Gronkowski was still making the big catches then. Now it’s time for someone else to step up. And hey, if things aren’t looking good, maybe Gronk will rip the turtleneck off during halftime and have his jersey underneath. Wouldn’t that be something?