Thursday, April 24, 2014
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - We may not know for days, or ever, just how bad Rob Gronkowski's latest arm injury is. Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots have never been forthcoming when it comes to injury news.
This much we know: on Nov. 18, in the closing minutes of a 59-24 blowout of Indianapolis, Gronkowski -- the Patriots magnificent tight end -- broke his left forearm. He missed the next five games before returning to play in the season finale Dec. 30 against Miami.
With 8:10 left in the first quarter of Sunday's AFC divisional-round game against the Houston Texans, Gronkowski laid out to try to catch a pass from Tom Brady and reinjured the arm as he fell to the ground. He never returned, and according to several reports he won't play again this season because he broke his arm again and will need further surgery.
Asked if Gronkowski broke his arm, Belichick said, "I'm not sure. I just walked off the field."
When asked later if Gronkowski was healthy enough to play before his setback, Belichick said, "He wouldn't have played if he wasn't."
But don't let news of this injury get you too down. Once again the Patriots showed they may be the one team in the NFL that can overcome the loss of one of the league's best players and not only win, but dominate.
The Patriots advanced to their ninth AFC championship game -- the seventh in the Brady-Belichick era.
New England overcame the early loss of not only Gronkowski but also running back Danny Woodhead and defensive end Chandler Jones to beat the Houston Texans 41-28 Sunday evening at Gillette Stadium. Woodhead injured his left thumb on the first play and left the field, according to WEEI.com's Chris Price, "with a MONSTER bag of ice on his hand", while Jones sustained an ankle injury.
The game wasn't as close as the score might indicate.
The Patriots adjusted, as they always do, and got great games from their reserve players.
This is what separates the Patriots from other teams.
Brady, who became the winningest postseason quarterback with his 17th playoff victory (passing his idol, Joe Montana), pleaded ignorance when it came to Gronkowski's injury: "I don't know anything about that. I haven't heard anything."
But, he added later, losing Gronkowski and Woodhead prompted some adjustments.
"We had a whole plan built for (Gronkowski) and Woody," said Brady. "We run the first series of the game and all those plans change. I think a little of it was, 'What are we going to do now? How are we going to adjust?'
"But we all seemed to settle in there midway through the first quarter and put together a good game. Obviously it's a bummer to lose anybody, but someone of Rob's importance and Danny's importance, we need guys to step in and fill the void, whether it's this game or any game after."
On Sunday, it was running back Shane Vereen who replaced Woodhead and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui who stepped in for Gronkowski.
Vereen only scored three touchdowns -- two on passes from Brady, including a mind-boggling 33-yard diving catch -- and rushed for 41 yards and another touchdown.
Hoomanawanui didn't catch a pass -- he only caught five during the regular season and joked he might pay Brady to throw a couple his way -- but his blocking was a key factor in a ground game that put up 122 yards.
"We had a bunch of guys step up and make plays that needed to be made," said Belichick.
He specifically mentioned "Hooman" (I much prefer that version of his oh-so-hard-to-spell name) and Vereen.
"Shane obviously made a lot of big plays,' said Belichick. "But Hooman did a great job, too, as he's been doing the last month or so.
"These kind of games you don't really know, when that dial spins, who it's going to end up on. Those guys were prepared. It's a credit to everyone to be ready."
Other teams have players go down and replace them. But Gronkowski's loss is huge.
He is regarded as perhaps the best tight end in football, a fierce blocker who has also scored at least 10 touchdowns in three consecutive seasons.
So instead of throwing to Gronkowski, the Patriots went to Aaron Hernandez, who caught six passes, averaging 14.2 yards. Or they ran the ball, with Hoomanawanui blocking.
Instead of Woodhead swinging out of the backfield on a mismatch with the linebacker, it was Vereen.
"I come into the game ready to go and if my number is called, I do my best for the team," said Vereen.
"We hate to lose Woody. He is such a key part of our offense, but at the same time, all of the running backs hold ourselves accountable to be able to step up when somebody goes down."
And so it was Sunday. Just as it always is.
Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: