The New England Patriots placed tight end Rob Gronkowski on the Injured Reserve Monday, ending his season after he took a hellacious hit to his right knee in Sunday's27-26 win over Cleveland.
Anyone who saw the play in which Browns defensive back T.J. Ward tackled Gronkowski with a low hit knew this move was coming. Gronkowski had just caught a pass in the left seam and planted his right foot when Ward hit him.
Gronkowski immediately slammed his right fist into the turf. He had to be carted off the field.
The Patriots have withstood season-ending injuries to defensive players Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Tommy Kelly, as well as right offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer to still put together a 10-3 record. Five of those wins have been fourth-quarter comebacks, including Sunday's in which the Patriots wiped out a 12-point deficit in the final two minutes.
But Gronkowski's loss is different. He missed the first six games of the season and the offense struggled, averaging around 20 points a game. With him in the lineup for six games, New England averaged over 30 points a game.
Beyond his pass catching ability, he opened the field up for all the other receivers. Gronkowski caught 39 passes in his six-plus games for 592 yards and four touchdowns. No other Patriots tight end has more than 10 catches and only Matthew Mulligan, Maine's own from West Enfield, has caught a touchdown pass.
In his Monday teleconference call with the media, Bill Belichick said losing Gronkowski is the same as losing the other players: the team has to move forward.
"Whoever is in there is going to have to fulfill some of those duties but it may expand to more people, like we ended up having to do offensively (Sunday), using more four-receiver sets instead of three receivers and a tight end or something like that,'' he said. "Or it might result in the tight ends getting more plays, or some combination there.''
He said the Patriots played the first six games without Gronkowski, so they know what to expect.
"One way or another we'll have to adjust to it,'' he said.
On Monday, Mulligan spoke to Doug Kyed, the Patriots beat writer for NESN and said no one should expect him to replace Gronkowski. Here's the story.
The Patriots Super Bowl chances took a big hit with Gronkowski's injury, but given what this team has accomplished this season, no one will count them out.
It's just going to be a little more difficult.