Rob Gronkowski's impact on the Patriots offense is so significant that finding a replacement when he is injured is all but impossible. Tom Brady explained to WEEI's Dennis and Callahan Show on Monday that if Gronkowski is forced to miss time because of the ugly knee injury he suffered on Sunday during New England's 27-26 win over the Browns, the Patriots offense will change.
"It just shifts, you just have to find a different formula," Brady said. "I think that's the important part. And Gronk provides a certain margin of error because of how talented a player he is, and the other guys play different roles for us."
As the Patriots roster currently stands, the "other guys" are tight ends Matthew Mulligan and Michael Hoomanawanui and fullback James Develin, who has seen some time performing tight end duties in New England's offense.
Mulligan made an important 15-yard catch in the fourth quarter that helped set up Stephen Gostkowski for a 50-yard field goal, but he has been used almost exclusively as a blocking tight end. Hoomanawanui, who has 10 catches for 114 yards this season, missed his third straight game on Sunday because of a knee injury.
The Patriots could bring in another tight end for depth -- they recently signed and released veteran tight end DJ Williams -- but there is no Gronk replica available. Duties in the New England offense will have to change across the board to adapt.
"Those roles are going to have to shift, kind of what we did on the last two drives of the game, we had four receivers at points," Brady explained. "At different points we had more [tight ends] with Develin and Mulligan on the field."
Brady added: "We're going to have to make due. Whatever the combinations are if Gronk's not out there, we've got to try to figure those out."
Can the Patriots make the Super Bowl without their biggest playmaker, Brady was asked?
“That’s perfect for you guys to talk about all day, but that’s not something that we engage in or talk about those types of things,” Brady said. “However it ends up playing out -- I don’t know anything about the injury or severity of it-- but we’ve got a talented group of players that are playing. Every team has players that they wish were out there every down, and if they’re not out there every down you’ve still got to find a way to win.
“Our thoughts are with him, and I know how tough he is and how much he wants to be out there with us. We’ll see how it plays out.”
Gronkowski reportedly will undergo an MRI on his right knee Monday. Brady said he is confident that whenever Gronkowski does return, he'll be the same old game-changing Gronk.
"All injuries are different," Brady said. "And he's as tough a guy as there is. What he's been through the last, really, two years since he hurt his ankle in the postseason and then to come back from that and deal with his back and his arm and to deal with that all season last year and all offseason, he's a tough guy and a tough kid. If there's one thing he has, it's mental toughness. He'll be back, regardless of what it is, better than ever."