Patriots can be Super even without Gronkowski

There’s nothing more dangerous than a premature celebration to bury the Patriots, nothing more foolish than to write them off because one extremely effective piece to their ever-changing puzzle is gone.

You’d have to be a stone-cold buffoon to dismiss Bill Belichick’s team simply because all-world tight end Rob Gronkowski and his 69 career touchdowns (yes, the ultimate party boy actually has scored 69 times) is done for the season after undergoing back surgery.

Sure, the 10-2 Patriots are technically the No. 2 seed in the AFC behind the 10-2 Raiders with four games left in the regular season, but they still have enough offensive weaponry to reach Super Bowl LI in two months.

“He’s a big loss because he’s such an integral factor in what we do, but we’ll keep fighting on,” Tom Brady said after New England’s 26-10 win over the Rams on Sunday. “I think we’ve still got a lot of other players who can fight as well. We’re going to have to keep doing it. He’s not coming back.”

On the surface, Gronk’s production (a ridiculous 21.6 yards per catch) seems impossible to replicate. On the surface, winning 10-plus games for 14 consecutive seasons seems impossible too, but the Patriots have managed to do that.

The moral of the story: Doubting Belichick and Brady is about as dumb as disciplining a player for not wearing a tie on a road trip.

The Patriots are the gold standard because they’re flexible. They adapt to annoying circumstances like losing a game-changing tight end. They look for creative solutions to common problems. They never stop attacking.

As long as Tom Brady is healthy, you can’t bet against the Patriots.

As long as Tom Brady is healthy, you can’t bet against the Patriots.

(Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

They also happen to have the greatest player in the history of the sport, whose found what Juan Ponce de León never could.

Full disclosure: Belichick’s football life has been made much easier by Brady, who set the all-time record for quarterback wins (201) on Sunday.

“Every game he has a couple of plays out there that are I’d say just made on experience,” Belichick said. “Just kind of sensing something or doing the right thing in the right situation. He’s got a lot of poise. Guys are flying around all around him but he’s able to keep his eyes downfield and focus on the target and does a great job in the pocket of sensing the rush. It’s a pretty long list. I don’t think you win over 200 games by just doing one or two things right. You do a lot of them; he does.”

Brady has allowed Belichick & Co. to re-invent the Patriots offense over and over for the past decade and a half. Players of varying skill level have passed through Foxborough through the years. Brady has been the fulcrum.

He has elevated the play of everyone around him, turned nobodies into somebodies, defied age and logic along the way. A 39-year-old man should not be playing football like this. His 19 touchdowns and one interception in eight games makes you scratch and shake your head so many times that it begins to hurt.

How has he done it? Sheer will? Manic dedication? Insane discipline? Good genes?

Rob Gronkowski is out for the remainder of the season.

Rob Gronkowski is out for the remainder of the season.

(Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Whatever the reasons are, it’s precisely why the Patriots are the most dangerous team in the conference no matter how amped up the crazies are in the Black Hole.

Gronkowski is a significant — but not insurmountable — loss. The Patriots are 16-7 without their All-Pro tight end through the years, but only 1-2 in the playoffs. A one-legged Gronk was the primary reason why the Patriots didn’t beat the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI. (He was ineffective before needing ankle surgery in the offseason).

Although there’s no denying that losing Gronk again stings — they score four fewer points and amass 25 fewer yards without him — they can get through the AFC without him.

Brady has sufficient pass-catching options with Julian Edelman, emerging rookie Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Hogan. Dion Lewis, James White and Martellus Bennett. New England’s offense wasn’t exactly sharp against the Rams on Sunday (only 4 for 16 on third downs), but history shows that Brady will get his act together in the post-Gronk portion of the schedule.

New England’s defense isn’t as shaky as some would like you to believe, either.

A daunting final four games awaits against the Ravens, Broncos, Jets and Dolphins. Maybe they’ll ultimately have to go through the Black Hole.

Gronk or no Gronk, you don’t want to play the Patriots in January.

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Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News

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