Now that Rob Gronkowski is lost for the season, New England is obviously going to be forced to figure out how they’ll be able to revive an offense that has already struggled over the past few games to score points early on.

They were shut out during the first two quarters of play on Sunday against Cleveland, scored seven against the Texans the week before, none against Denver, and three against the Panthers.  So they haven’t exactly been lighting things up even when he’s been on the field and still face the issue of trying to figure out how to get things going earlier in the game.

The question now is going to be whether or not they can find a way to fix that even with him sidelined.  One thing to take into account is running back Shane Vereen, who already has had a big effect in the passing game since coming back from his broken wrist.  After Sunday’s game Vereen now has 40 receptions, just one shy of Danny Amendola and more than Rob Gronkowski (39), Aaron Dobson (35), and Kenbrell Thompkins (32), and he’s missed almost the entire season.

So far Vereen’s been seen on film being used in much the same way the Patriots used Aaron Hernandez.  He’s lined up in the backfield and lined up at receiver, which has allowed them to use him to create mismatches when he’s been picked up by a linebacker outside. As a result, they’ve had some success exploiting it.


Shane Vereen will likely be one of the players the Patriots will need to step up in the weeks ahead now that Rob Gronkowski is lost for the season.
(USA TODAY Images)

But the bigger question is going to be how Gronkowski’s absence is going to affect players around him.  Obviously he demanded plenty of attention from opposing defenses, which opened things up considerably for Edelman, who as the season wore on after his early success started seeing more double teams.  The thing that’s hard to predict, however, is the fact that they didn’t have Vereen during that span, so if Edelman starts seeing the double teams, it’s difficult to say if they’ll be able to take advantage of that with other players.

The interesting thing about this situation is the fact that they’re now heading down a different road, because they went through much of the season with different players being in or out of the line-up at different points in the season.  They didn’t have Vereen, Amendola, or Edelman all together until recently,  as Vereen had been out while recovering from his wrist injury.  So the issues we saw Edelman deal with can hopefully be countered now that they have more personnel to work with.

Belichick said on Monday that whoever is in there will have to pick up some of the slack, and that offensively they may have to adjust and go to four receiver sets instead of three in terms of their personnel groupings.

“Whoever is in there is going to have to fulfill some of those duties,” Belichick told the media when asked about it Monday. “But it may expand to more people, like we ended up having to do offensively, using more four-receiver sets instead of three receivers and a tight end or something like that. Or it might result in the tight ends getting more plays, or some combination there.

“Some of that may change from game to game, but obviously we’ve unfortunately had to play without Rob for games at the beginning of the season and we may be in that situation again. We’ve dealt with that already this year. If we have to deal with it again, that will probably be something similar to what we’ve already dealt with this year.”

Either way it likely also means some additional playing time for Matthew Mulligan and James Develin, who have been bigger contributors in recent weeks.  Belichick sounded confident yesterday in what both of those players can bring to this offense.

I think both those guys, kind of like what we talked about last week with James, but put Matt in that category too, they’re both role players in our offense,” said Belichick. “Sometimes their roles are a little bit bigger or a little bit smaller from game to game depending on the game plan and the situation. But when they’re called on, they’ve been very dependable; both smart guys that are tough and really compete well.

“They aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and do some of the tougher jobs that need to be done on the football field. They both came up with some plays yesterday and were able to give us good, dependable play when we needed it. That’s kind of their role on the team.”

Needless to say, these final three games should be interesting to see how it all unfolds. It’s already been a tough road to this point, and New England will need everyone to step up to try and keep the momentum going through both the end of the year and the postseason. Hopefully if they’re able to rally and continue fighting with the group they have, when the dust settles, they’ll be among the final teams left standing out of the AFC.

WOULD A KNEE BRACE HAVE SAVED GRONKOWSKI?

Looking back on a hit on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady back in 2011, it was interesting to note the fact that the use of a knee brace potentially saved Brady from a second injury to his surgically repaired knee.

On the play Brady was struck by San Diego Chargers defensive tackle Antonio Gray, who went low and hit Brady’s left knee from just behind him as he was throwing the ball, with the quarterback ending up on the ground with his back arched and his legs bent.  The next day Brady credited the knee brace he was wearing for preventing the second injury.

“I’m glad I had a knee brace on,” Brady told WEEI the next day.  “Those are scary when you’ve been through those ones before. He got me in a good spot and I’m glad the knee brace took the brunt of the force. Why I never wore a knee brace before (his season-ending ACL injury in 2008) I have no idea and why every quarterback doesn’t wear one on their left knee I have no idea. It’s just so unprotected.”

Obviously with quarterbacks it’s a different issue because usually the guys coming after them (hopefully) don’t have the same amount of steam behind them as defensive backs do when they’re coming across the field against a player running up the sideline.  Not to mention that unless they’re a running quarterback, they usually aren’t relying on their speed, which is hampered by wearing a brace.

In the case of Gronkowski, he was also struck at full speed laterally by T.J. Ward, and according to several studies knee braces only provide so much protection.  The National Center for Biotechnology Information points out that most braces typically have been shown to be more effective in preventing medial collateral ligament injuries than anterior cruciate ligament injuries in both cadaveric and clinical studies.  Gronkowski suffered tears to both ligaments.

The bigger issue in this case has to do with how the knee was impacted.  When it comes to lateral impacts, one thing they pointed out was rather interesting.  When Gronkowski’s leg was struck it was fully extended and his foot was planted, which seems to be a more difficult scenario when it comes to knee braces because that’s when they’re at their weakest in regards to limiting abduction and rotational stresses on the knee.  One test they did seems to reveal that it’s difficult to potentially prevent an injury even with a brace:

Disruption of the medial supporting structures of the knee occurs commonly in contact sports such as American football and lacrosse. A limited number of clinical and laboratory studies currently document the effectiveness of bracing. The purpose of this project was to determine if commercially available bracing could be shown to produce objective evidence of medial stabilization of the knee. Our model involves the use of a cadaver lower extremity with a fixed foot and suspended femur with a free knee and a lateral impact load applied simulating a clipping injury. Force transducers were placed on the ACL and medial collateral ligament (MCL) and an electrogoniometer was attached to the extremity. The prophylactic braces studied had a limited capacity to protect the MCL from direct lateral stress with the knee in full extension. In flexion or with a change in direction of the load, the protective effect is greatly reduced. The functional braces had a capacity to limit abduction and rotational stresses on the MCL in flexion and extension.

So while a brace may seemingly have reduced the severity of the injury, it’s tough to believe it would have been enough to prevent Gronkowski from likely being sidelined for an extended period.  It’s likely when he returns he’ll wear one from a stability standpoint, but unfortunately it appears it likely wouldn’t have prevented it.

AMENDOLA TAKES ON A LINEBACKER – AND WINS:

Patriots’ wide receiver Danny Amendola was caught on film decleating Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson on Shane Vereen’s rushing touchdown on Sunday, with Amendola coming up and taking out the 240-pound linebacker on the play. ProFootballFocus.com’s Sam Monson caught the moment when he was reviewing the film and posted it via Twitter, and you can see below where Amendola comes up and completely takes him out of the play:

Wouldn't want to be D'Qwell Jackson in the Browns L... on Twitpic

ON TO THIS MORNING’S LINKS:

BOSTON HERALD:

Rob Gronkowski’s void runs deep - Jeff Howe - Howe writes that Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and nearly everyone else with access to a coaching badge is trying to help the Patriots concoct a pulse-saving game plan as they move forward without Rob Gronkowski.

Pats-Browns: Five take aways from the game - Jeff Howe - Howe his five take-aways from Sunday, and notes the positive step with a transition back to four-man fronts that helped the run defense.

Road to recovery intense for Rob Gronkowski – Mark Daniels – Daniels has a good read this morning on the road Gronkowski now faces between now and next season.

Callahan: Return to AFC title game may take another Patriots’ miracle – Gerry Callahan – Callahan has a column this morning on the fact he feels when Rob Gronkowski was carted off the field Sunday, all of New England’s hopes and dreams seemed to go with him.

Patriots report card: Another low-grade effort - Ron Borges – Borges files his weekly report card, and gives the coaching staff a ‘D’ for Sunday’s effort.

BOSTON GLOBE:

Scouting the Miami Dolphins – Erik Frenz – Frenz takes another look at the Dolphins’ as the Patriots get set for their second meeting in Miami on Sunday.

Bill Belichick liked Patriots’ finish, not the start - Shalise Manza Young – Manza Young has an article this morning on the fact Belichick was pleased with the final two minutes of how they they played, but not happy about the previous 58 before that.

Patriots move on after losing Rob Gronkowski – Shalise Manza Young – Manza Young writes that after being placed on injured reserve, the Patriots will now try to adjust following the loss of Gronkowski.

Can’t count out Patriots, even without Rob Gronkowski - Ben Volin – Volin writes that the Patriots offense might look as gruesome as Gronkowski’s injury was, but you still can’t count them out of Super Bowl contention.

Imagine how Patriots might win Super Bowl now - Dan Shaughnessy - Shaughnessy writes a hypothetical column this morning of how the Patriots overcame a 43-point halftime deficit to come back and beat the Seattle Seahawks to win the Super Bowl.

ESPN BOSTON:

Getting to know the Dolphins, again - Field Yates – Yates takes another look at the Dolphins as the Patriots prepare to face them again.

Is Gronkowski’s style of play sustainable? – Mike Reiss – Reiss looks at Rob Gronkowski’s style of play and wonders if he can continue to play that way, as well or not he’ll ever be the same again.

Life without Gronk – ESPN Stats & Info - Here are some interesting numbers focusing on Gronkowski’s effect on New England’s offense.

PROVIDENCE JOURNAL:

Patriots Journal: For Ridley, some baby steps – Brian MacPherson – MacPherson writes that one week after being a healthy scratch, Stevan Ridley returned on a limited basis for New England.

Gronkowski is out, so Patriots will reconfigure – Brian MacPherson – MacPherson writes that with Gronkowski now lost for the season, the Patriots will now have to rely more on their remaining skill-position players.

WORCESTER TELEGRAM:

Patriots move on without Rob Gronkowski – Rich Garven – Garven has his thoughts on how the Patriots can move on now without Gronkowski.

Patriots keep defying them with each comeback – Rich Garven – Garven points out that at 10-3, half of New England’s wins have come after trailing in the fourth quarter and they’ve proven that they’re never out of any game.

CSNNE:

Will Gronk ever be the same after injuries? - Jeff Howe and Chris Gasper appeared on Sports Tonight on CSNNE last night, and had some interesting thoughts regarding the future of Gronkowski.

PATRIOT LEDGER:

Patriots have another obstacle to overcome – Jim Fenton – Fenton looks at yet another injury for the Patriots, which gives them another challenge to overcome heading into the final three games.