When Tom Brady wakes up in the morning, supposedly he puts his pants on one leg at a time. This has yet to be confirmed.
As Rob Gronkowski left the field on Sunday following a hit at the knees by Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward, there was a chance New England’s Super Bowl aspirations left with him.
It is impossible to quantify how valuable Gronkowski is to the New England Patriots’ offense. In the first six games of the season Brady had a completion percentage of 56.9 and an average of 6.2 yards per passing attempt. In the six games after Gronkowski’s return Brady had a completion percentage of 64.7 and an average of 7.7 yards per passing attempt. Speaking in broad terms, Gronkowski’s return brought Brady’s production from pedestrian to elite.
This season the Patriots have been forced to adapt. It started in the offseason with tight end Aaron Hernandez being charged with the murder of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd. Then they lost fan favorite Wes Welker to free agency, all while Gronkowski recovered from multiple offseason surgeries on a broken forearm.
Needless to stay, Brady entered the 2013 season with inexperienced weapons. As the Patriots leaned on their defense through the first six games, the Patriots were able to wait for Gronkowski’s return. Fast-forward to Week 14 and things are different. With the postseason fast approaching the team is in temporary disarray.
For the Patriots to make a deep playoff run the only player fans find themselves able to rely on is Brady. Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, two perennial Pro Bowlers on defense, are out for the year. Gronkowski will be sidelined for the foreseeable future due to the torn ACL and MCL he sustained this past Sunday.
Having Brady under center gives the Patriots a clear advantage over every team in the AFC outside of Denver. It will be interesting to see what direction the Patriots head in on offense. Shane Vereen has proven to be a playmaker, getting heavily involved in the passing game since his return from a broken wrist.
The patented two tight-end attack was the foundation of the Patriots offense as recently as last season, but due to their current situation the Patriots should go to smaller packages. Expect to see a lot of personnel groupings of two running backs and three receivers, one back and four receivers, and potentially some five wide receiver looks considering the sudden appearance of Josh Boyce this past Sunday. With the smaller attacks, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will be putting the ball in his star quarterback’s hands, spreading the field and allowing Brady dissect the defense.
When all is said and done the 2013 season could be reflected upon as Brady’s best work. If he is lucky enough to be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy this February in New Jersey, there will be nobody more to thank than Brady. The improvement of young receivers like Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins is directly related to Brady’s hunger, and the work done with them early in the season in Gronkowski’s absence will be expected to pay off as the Patriots head into the postseason undermanned.
If Brady ends the season with his fourth Super Bowl, considering the skill position players he has been left to work with, it would be tough for anybody to convince me he puts his pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of us. Deep down I understand he is human, but the fact that I question it for even a moment speaks volumes about the legend he has created in New England.
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