The Patriots lost tight end Rob Gronkowski for the season when he suffered a knee injury in Sunday's 27-26 win over Cleveland, but they can't afford to waste any time thinking about it.
They play the Miami Dolphins Sunday with a chance to clinch the AFC East championships for the fifth consecutive year, 10th time in 11 years.
Speaking to the media Tuesday, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said the team is already trying to figure out how to move on without Tom Brady's best offensive weapon.
"I just know that any time you lose a player like that or you can't use a player like that, you need to put your time into a few different things, and other people have to play different roles,'' said McDaniels. "You play offense a little differently, and we do have experience.''
He was refering to Gronkowski's absence in the first six games of the season, as well as the entire preseason, as he recovered from off-season surgeries to his right forearm and back. As they did in those instances, the Patriots will rely on different facets of the offense.
"I don't think you can replace a guy like that, a guy that can do so many unique things, with anybody,'' said McDaniels. "I think the thing that we rely on most from one week to the next has always been trying to figure out what part of our offensive system to use to maximize the strengths of the players that we have available for us that week against the strengths of the opponent that we're playing that week as well. So I don't think for us the formula's going to change.''
The Patriots can clinch the AFC East with a win or a tie Sunday at Miami. If they lose, they can still clinch a playoff spot with a Baltimore loss or tie Monday at Detroit.
BILL BELICHICK was asked Tuesday if it was feasible to ask defensive players to not target the knee, as well as the head.
Gronkowski was injured when Cleveland's T.J. Ward slammed into his right knee. Ward said after the game that he knew a high tackle might lead to a fine, so he played it safe and went low.
Belichick's reply: "That's probably not really a question for me. It's something you should probably refer to the league and the rules committee and all that.''
THE PATRIOTS were flexed out of the Sunday night game against the Baltimore Ravens on Dec. 22. NBC has elected to put the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles game in the 8:30 p.m. time slot.
The Patriots-Ravens game will now start at 4:25 p.m. on CBS.