While there was plenty to be happy about Sunday at Gillette Stadium, the New England Patriots weren’t necessarily in a celebrating mood.
They once again came back from a big deficit to earn an implausible victory, this time scoring two touchdowns in the final 61 seconds – sandwiched around a successful onside kick – to beat the Cleveland Browns 27-26.
Tom Brady threw for over 400 yards. Shane Vereen became only the fourth back in the last 10 years to have over 150 receiving yards.
But all of this was tempered by the loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski. He was injured midway through the third quarter when Cleveland’s T.J. Ward went low and hit him on the outside of the right knee after he made a catch for 21 yards.
Gronkowski dropped in pain and was taken off the field on a cart. Early reports from several outlets indicated that he had suffered an ACL tear and is done for the year.
This would be a huge blow to the Patriots Super Bowl chances. Gronkowski is one of the top offensive threats in the NFL and his presence opens up the field for everyone else. In the six games he played this year after sitting out the first six while he recovered from off-season surgeries to his right forearm and back, the Patriots scored 10 more points per game.
As you might expect, his loss was a big topic in the locker room.
"We got his back, that’s for sure,” said wide receiver Danny Amendola, who scored the winning touchdown. "Gronk’s a leader on this team. He’s one of the best, so we got his back whenever he comes out. It’s frustrating to see him go down, and you feel for him.”
Even those who have only known him for a short time, like rookie safety Duron Harmon, were affected.
"It’s always hard when you see a player lke that, especially an important player like that, go down,” he said. ‘That’s what makes it even more sad, because you’ve seen what he went through to come back and how well he’s been playing.”
But the Patriots don’t have time to be sad too long. In fact, they had to put any such feelings aside almost immediately. They were trailing 12-0 at the time of his injuries.
"Obviously we have emotions that come out,” said tight end Matthew Mulligan, a native of West Enfield. "But that’s part of being a professional. You have to try to put everything else aside and whether it be an injury or any thing else, you’ve got to put all of that behind you. I think that’s a mark of a good team.”
The Patriots have a good team. It’s just a little weaker today.