It was the worst scenario imaginable.
What once masqueraded as a feel-good beatdown of the Indianapolis Colts revealed itself to be a wart-covered witch as it was later announced that tight end Rob Gronkowski had broken his forearm while participating in an extra point attempt.
mob media grabbed their trusty torches and pitchforks and stormed Patriot Place, demanding answers from head coach Bill Belichick as to why such a valuable piece to the postseason puzzle was left out on the field in such a lopsided game.
"You tell me which guys are going to get hurt and I'll get them out of there," he deadpanned.
And he was right. After all, the odds of fracturing a bone on a PAT unit are comparable to having a microphone fracturing your face at the post-game podium. Or, spraining your ankle after tripping on the extraordinarily long sleeves of your hooded sweatshirt when they should have been cut off a long time ago.
The real surprise here, though, is that there's a little bit of silver lining to be had while Rob rehabilitates and figures out how to correctly wear a cast.
1) The Brandon Lloyd Effect
What Patriots fans had hoped to see from week one and on ended up going through many ups and downs and ebbs and flows as Tom Brady and Brandon Lloyd tried desperately each week to get on the same page. With defenses aiming to limit the production of Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez in Gronkowski's absence, all eyes were on Lloyd to finally deliver his big-catch ability that he had flashed throughout his career. Against one of the top defenses in the league, Lloyd did not disappoint as he reeled in 10 catches for 190 yards. There was still some miscommunication and a small handful of drops, but it finally seemed the elusive rapport (and admittedy beautiful relationship) between quarterback and receiver had finally started to click. If Lloyd maintains the "like learning how to ride a bike" effect that many of Brady's receivers have shared in the past (Deion Branch being the best example), the Patriots' sword is suddenly a whole lot sharper.
While Gronkowski will inevitably be the beneficiary of his usual red zone looks and utilization in two-TE sets when he returns, opposing defenses will now have no choice but to account for Lloyd, who is starting to emerge as the one weapon many saw the Patriots lacking during their 2011 postseason campaign.
2) The "Other" Tight Ends, Well-Rehearsed
When carefully examining the game tape from last year's Game-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named, it was glaringly obvious that a hobbled Rob Gronkowski was just a mere shell of himself. He looked gimpy from the onset and the Giants quickly figured this out, never giving him the undivided attention of their defense or respecting his playmaking ability he had become notorious for.
The front office quickly addressed their lack of depth at the tight end position during the offseason, and as their 3-1 mark in Gronkowski's absence can attest, they hardly skipped a beat while invaluable reps were divvied up between Michael Hoomanawanui and Daniel Fells . While neither comes close to replicating Gronkowski's receving numbers or blocking ability, their experience against the top defenses the NFL has to offer bodes well for the postseason. If the unspeakable happens once again and the Patriots lose Hernandez or Gronkowski for any significant stretch of time, they'll be in good hands. Just not Gronk's hands.
3) The Re-Acclimation of Josh McDaniels
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels hadn't forgotten how to run an offense in his five years away from the Patriots, but he certainly forgot how to run theirs. Some growing pains were unavoidable as he re-learned the quirks and the strengths of the offense and combined them with his own. Some early struggles didn't completely doom the Patriots and the offense quickly found its footing, rising to become the most point-happy in the league.
McDaniels has been forced to become much more creative as Gronkowski's been sidelined, and during the previous four weeks he's really shined. The use of the flea flicker, deep routes, well-designed running plays and play-action fakes have been nothing short of incredible to watch as the Patriots have been able to seemingly score at will against stingy teams. It'll be interesting to monitor how McDaniels reintegrates Gronkowski into the offense, but after seeing the Patriots open a War and Peace-sized playbook with a Pride and Prejudice-number of tweaks and nuances, it becomes increasingly evident that the Patriots will be able to successfully find and exploit each and every team's weakness they'll encounter for the remainder of the season.