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Patriots on playing without Gronk: 'We've experienced [it] before'

By Josh Katzowitz | NFL Writer

The Patriots suffered a terrible blow on Sunday when tight end Rob Gronkowski tore his ACL, ending his season and robbing the team of its best non-Tom Brady offensive weapon.

But this is nothing new for New England. And that's how offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will deal with the disappointment going forward.

"We've experienced playing without him before. I don't know if we're better equipped, I'm not exactly sure how to rate that. 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," McDaniels said on Tuesday, via the Boston Globe. "You play offense a little differently, and we do have experience doing that. We did it at the beginning of this year for a significant number of weeks, we did it in the offseason, we did it last year during the course of the season as well, so we've experienced this before.

"I think for that reason, we kind of have an idea of exactly what we need to use and how to kind of formulate our game plan to max out our strengths and try to make up for the loss of a very unique player."

Yes, but without Gronkowski for the first six weeks of the season because of back and forearm issues, the Patriots offense struggled (missing Danny Amendola didn't help either). While young receivers like Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins showed their potential, their inconsistency clearly frustrated Brady. That seemed to improve a month into the season, and with Gronkwoski in the lineup, it was clear that Brady still trusted him the most.

But there is this. For only the fourth time since 2006, the Patriots were shut out in the first half on Sunday vs. the Browns. The bad news. It's the second time in three weeks that's happened to New England. In fact, in the last three games, New England has been outscored 47-7 in the first halves of those contests.

Gronkowski, by the way, was on offense for each of those games.

Still, without him in the lineup, that changes the way the opposing defense will game-plan against New England.

"When you have players that can be as productive as Rob has been, some defenses pay a tremendous amount of attention to him and have done that to other players on our team at different times, where they may say they want to try to double him, may say they want to try to jam him or bump him or do different things, and you can tell that that was really their plan going into the game, because it's obvious that they changed some of the things that you had seen on film to do those things," McDaniels said. "When he's not in there, then certainly they may be more inclined to do more of the things that they're used to doing, and they don't necessarily need to account for a player at that position to be such an incredible challenge as you presented."

All in all, missing Gronkowski not a great situation for the Patriots. Even if, by now, they've become rather used to it.

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