It has been something of an unconventional week around the NFL, and because of that I'm going to follow suit and do a little zig when I should probably be zagging.
And of course, by "zagging" I mean "getting some real, actual work done."
If you read Pats Pulpit on a regular basis, you know that "Coping With Loss" articles are usually only reserved for the days following a Patriots defeat when we all need a little pick-me-up and reason to show some positivity around here. And although the Patriots won on Sunday, a victory that came in miracle fashion and received a little bit of help from the refs, their postseason aspirations were still dealt a major blow when Rob Gronkowski blew out his ACL and MCL, thus ending his season and once again reacquainting us all with two letter that have become very, very familiar to us this past season: "I" and "R." Perhaps no two letters in history have generated so many four letter words in so short a time as those two jerks have, and perhaps no season-ending injury has produced more of them than Rob Gronkowski. Gronk was only just starting to round into form before he was once again lost for the year, leaving us all to wonder what exactly we did to anger the football gods so while simultaneously wondering what could have been if Gronk was healthy for just one measly postseason.
The general consensus was that we could lose Wilfork, Mayo, Vollmer, Ammendola, Vereen, Talib, and Gregory and still find a way to bounce back, but once Gronk went down, that was it. And to be honest, there's good reason to think that; the numbers don't lie, and the Patriots with Gronkowski in the lineup are significantly more dangerous than they are without him. Even I have my doubts; I wasn't lying when I said that part of me thought that the Patriots season got carted off the field right alongside Gronk Sunday afternoon. And while I've had some time to begin coping and adjusting since then, I'm still of the opinion that the path to the Super Bowl just became a much harder road to hoe.
But you know what? Who cares? At this point, what's another injury? The 2013 Patriots have suffered misfortunes that would bring other franchises crumbling to the ground, but still sit pretty at 10-3. There's no reason to think that they won't find a way to soldier on without everyone's favorite lovable meathead, and here are some reasons why.
We won without him. It's easy to forget that the Patriots went 5-1 without Gronk in the lineup. Granted, those wins came back when the team still had a defense capable of stopping a drive, but a win is a win. Furthermore, those wins came early in the year, when the rookies were all still very raw and the offense was still trying to find its rhythm. This is a better offense than the first six games of the year, with or without Gronk, and they are going to be able to find ways to win now that he is sidelined. It isn't going to be the same, and it isn't going to be as easy, but this team is capable of generating victories without Gronk. And to anyone who says I'm just a fanboy who is sugarcoating it, just ask Chris Jones, James Develin, Matthew Mulligan, Josh Boyce, Joe Vellano, Logan Ryan, and Kenbrell Thompkins just how much sugar is on that coat. The Pats are going to find a way to win games. And why? Because...
We have Bill Belichick. Belichick is my frontrunner for Coach of the Year and it isn't even close. Is that a homer vote? Probably. But Belichick has done more with less this year than any other year of his coaching tenure. You can make a case for the 2008 season, but at least that squad still had Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and some semblance of a defense (not to mention a cake schedule); this year's team started catching bad breaks before the season even started, and the hits haven't stopped coming since. All Belichick has done was find players to fit into his system, get the most out of the talent he has, and set his team up for yet another AFC East crown and a possible 1 seed in the playoffs. Belichick is going to find a way to make this offense run without Gronk; he will create mismatches with the players available to him, the offense will continue to roll, and the Patriots will march on. The one plus side of this injury is that Belichick knows that Gronkowski isn't coming back this year, so there's no need to install and run any kind of offensive scheme in which Gronk can be inserted down the line once he's healthy again (which is sort of how the team started the season); Gronk is out for good, so we can completely scrap the playbook and find another way to win games. Get ready for a fairly big shift, on the fly, in offensive philosophy, and one that is going to work.
It's us against the world. There aren't many people out there right now who think that the Patriots still have a legitimate shot at winning a Super Bowl. At this point, the farthest that most analysts have them going is traveling to Denver for the AFC Championship Game, where the potent Broncos offense and opportunistic defense will just be too much to overcome, especially for a team on the road that hasn't had a tremendous amount of historical success at Mile High. Good, I say; let them continue thinking that. In fact, let them be as vocal about it as they possibly can. While they're at it, maybe they can write another article about how Peyton Manning's cold weather woes have suddenly and completely disintegrated after a home victory against a lousy Titans team in a non-primetime game while Tom Brady still needs to get lucky to pull out victory. Pile it on high and deep, and keep discounting this team. Tommy B said it best - nobody feels sorry for the Patriots. This squad is as determined and mentally tough as any I can remember rooting for, and the more they get counted out, the more they are going to pull together. It's like playing with house money at this point, and New England is going to let it ride on every hand and to hell with the consequences. If we're going to go down, we're going down swinging, and I'm going to be there for every last snap of it. And if that's the way a sad, pale, overweight desk jockey feels, then you're damn right that the Pats feel the same way.
Gronk will be back. A 24 year-old tight end who has already undergone six major surgeries which include a back, an ankle, and a knee has to be a red flag. There is reason to believe that Gronk is essentially done with this latest injury. Well I say nuts to that. Gronk is going to pull through this one just fine, and he'll continue to play football, if for no other reason that he doesn't have anything else to do. Seriously - what else would Gronk do besides play football? What else is he qualified for? He could try his hand as an analyst, but that requires talking, thinking on your feet, and avoiding distraction (although Gronk and Dierdorf calling the same game would be comic gold). Maybe he could have his own reality show, but that kind of fame and money is short lived. He'd make a great strip club bouncer, until that inevitable Friday night when suddenly the entire staff of Jake's Boom Boom Room mysteriously disappears along with the doorman. The bottom line is that Gronk was born to play football, and play football he shall. He'll heal, rehab, and come back ready to go at some point in 2014. And who knows? Maybe he won't be ready to play until this time next year, which means that he'll actually be fully healthy in January for once. Yes, Gronk is gone now, but nobody should pay any attention to talks of his career being over or him never being the same again. Experts say that one of the biggest issues for successfully coming back from knee surgery is being able to mentally trust your leg again. Somehow, I have a feeling that that particular line of thinking will be lost on Gronk.
Let's all stay positive, folks. The wagons have been circled. Grab whatever weapon you can - at this point we're pretty much down to rocks and pitchforks - and get ready to attack. I know I'm looking forward to the next few weeks very, very much.