|Losing TE Rob Gronkowski will hurt, but the Patriots may have enough firepower to get by. (US Presswire)|
It's doubtful that many people were thinking about TE Rob Gronkowski by the time the Patriots were putting the finishing touches on a 49-19 win over the Jets on Thursday night. That is, unless, it was to exclaim how large the margin would have been if the New England tight end were healthy.
In their first game without Gronkowski (broken forearm), the Patriots managed to rack up 475 total yards, and they were mostly in sync after a few awkward series to start the game.
The performance alleviated some of the initial concerns, but the real impact of the injury won't be known until the 49ers and Texans come to town in December and Tom Brady is forced into quick decisions without one of his security blankets on the field. But, for now at least, it seems that New England will be able to weather the storm until Gronkowski returns near the end of the regular season.
Here are a few takeaways from Thursday night:
True to script: When Gronkowski first went down, our initial belief was that the Patriots would continue to operate in the same manner that they did when Aaron Hernandez was out with an ankle injury. We predicted that the offense would continue to favor three-receiver sets and use a rotation at tight end. We were wrong, and the things we overlooked seem so obvious now.
New England's dual tight end attack was always more contingent on Hernandez than Gronkowski, mostly because Hernandez acts as more of a receiver. The Patriots predominately used three receivers during the seven weeks that Hernandez was out, but with him back on Thursday, they simply dropped Daniel Fells into Gronkowski's role and went about business like it was 2011.
New England employed two tight ends on 51 of 68 offensive plays, with Fells and Hernandez both logging 57 snaps. Fells doesn't bring much to the passing game, but he blocks well and should continue to serve in a similar capacity moving forward.
Hernandez healthy: The New England region breathed a collective sigh of relief when Hernandez made a one-handed grab, cut across the field and made a few other quick moves during a 28-yard catch-and-run.
Hernandez added just one other catch during the game, so he may not be all the way back, but the performance was at least a step in the right direction.
“It's tough when a player's been out for a few weeks to come right back in at the same level that he would be if he were playing all those consecutive weeks and practicing,” coach Bill Belichick said. “I think Aaron did some good things, and I would hope that in the next game he plays that he would be able to build on [Thursday] night and take it to high ground.”
Not to knock Fells or the other tight ends on the roster, but if Hernandez limped through the game, the odds of getting through the next 4-6 weeks would have grown much longer.
Step it up: It's never been WR Brandon Lloyd's game to gain a huge amount of yards after the catch, but it seems like he's taking things to an extreme this season. Due to his affinity for leaving his feet to both dive after balls and avoid contact, he's averaging just 2.33 yards after catch per reception (49 receptions, 107 YAC).
At 6-feet tall, he could essentially fall forward after each reception and hit that figure. With Gronkowski out of action, everyone is going to need to step it up. This could be an easy area for Lloyd to improve.