Though Rob Gronkowski's season-ending arm injury eliminates one of the Patriots' most dangerous offensive weapons from the equation going forward, the fact that the Patriots have played without him at full strength for essentially seven weeks now makes dealing with his loss somewhat easier since they're accustomed to playing without him.
Tom Brady explained on Monday morning what it will be like moving forward without the team's big tight end.
"I think we put much more time in this year than we . . . for example, like last year, when we played the Super Bowl, it was our first game without him in two years," Brady told WEEI's Dennis and Callahan Show. "Not that that's any excuse because there are no excuses, but there's an uncertainty of how guys are going to play and step in. Well we know now, we know the types of packages we'll use and what we'll do and the different ways we'll try to find some weakness in the defense based on our groups and so forth."
The team has plenty of other weapons with which to work. In games this season without Gronkowski (including last night's win over the Texans when his injury made him essentially a non-factor) the Patriots have averaged 35.3 points per game. Brady is confident that the offense, led by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, will continue to find ways to be effective.
"That's what Josh does better than anybody else that I've been around; his ability to adjust like he's done all season," Brady said. "That's just the way it's gone. I think we've played a bunch of games now, we've never really been fully healthy, and obviously now won't be, but you know what? We've still got a very good team and there's different guys that step up and make those big time plays, whether it's Wes (Welker) or Brandon (Lloyd) or Deion (Branch) or Shane (Vereen) or Stevan Ridley or Danny Woodhead, Aaron Herandez had another big game. They've got to stop all of us, and that's what we've got to continue to do this week."
The Patriots will have their work cut out for them on Sunday at home when they face the Ravens in the AFC Championship game for the second year in a row. New England lost to the Ravens back in Week 3, and Brady noted that the Patriots are familiar with some of what Baltimore does because the two teams have played so frequently over the last few years.
"We learn from Week 3," Brady said. "But like I said last week, it's just more of a few matchups and so forth. I think you get a feel for some coverages, but we've played them enough where we know the players, we know their strengths, we'll just work hard to see what they've done since our game. There's a lot of tape to be watched, but they're playing their best football right now.
"The way their offense played (against the Broncos in the Wild Card game Saturday), I did see a few of those Torrey Smith catches and those were incredible," he continued. "He had a great game against us and he had a great game on Saturday. They've got a very good offense, very good defense, they've got some Pro Bowl special teams guys, they've got a great team and they're very well coached. That's why they're in the same position that they were last year. I feel the same way about us. I feel we've got the best coaching, we've got a lot of mentally tough players, physically tough players that are going to be facing our toughest challenge of the year. I know we'll be ready for it when we kickoff next week."
Ravens special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo made comments on Twitter Sunday night accusing the Patriots of using dirty tactics when they go to their hurry-up offense. Brady didn't respond directly to the comments -- Ayanbadejo later apologized -- but he did insinuate that the hurry-up would continue to be a part of their game plan as they've used it all season.
Weve had a lot of people comment about our team and our players this year. I think the best thing that we do is we ignore the noise, we go out and we try to prepare, Brady said. Nothing really that anybody says or does is going to affect whats going to happen next Sunday. I think its best for us just to focus on what we can do, and thats prepare and work and do what weve done all season. People want to say things or write things, they have the liberty to do that, but it doesnt really have any bearing on what we do.
Brady explained what goes into the hurry-up further, and how the team has to execute while moving at a quick pace. Moving quickly without the execution can end a drive in the blink of an eye.
Like Ive said before, it does no good to go fast and not do your job," Brady said. "It starts with us executing well, being able to do our job effectively. I think as long as we can stay on the field and make a few first downs, then weve got a great tempo and momentum to the drive. And its hard to stop us at that point. Weve just got to get into the drive, and once were into the drive we feel like were going to put points on the board.
Ultimately it comes down to our execution. Its throwing, catching, running, blocking, playing penalty-free, not turning the ball over. I think I was most proud that it was a very clean game in terms of penalties and turnovers. Thats when we needed it the most. You cant afford to give up those possessions, put yourself behind in these long-yardage situations against good teams, because they take advantage.
Here are some of the other highlights from Brady's interview:
On Wes Welker, who had eight catches for 131 yards, including one 47-yard one-handed catch in the second quarter
Wes did an unbelievable job getting his hands on that ball and making the play. Its not like Wes has triple-XL hands. Wes isnt the biggest guy in the world, but hes got the biggest heart. That makes up for a lot of the size difference, is his mental toughness, his physical toughness. Theres just nobody like the guy.
We probably havent practiced that three times all year, throwing the ball down the field to Wes like that. When it matters the most, Wes comes up with it. Wes has his opportunities and he always take advantage.
On passing Joe Montana's record for career postseason victories
There was a lot of Joe Montana and a lot of Steve Young memorabilia in the Brady house. Those were my two favorites. To grow up as a kid in the Bay Area with the 49ers winning all those games is probably a lot like the kids in New England growing up now. I think thats really where my love for football started. My parents loved football and loved taking me to the games. There was nothing more fun for me than to go to Candlestick Park. Our seats were about on the 10-yard line, about eight rows from the top of the stadium. There was just so much excitement every week because the team won. Those two quarterbacks really set the bar for how the position is to be played. Ive always admired both those guys. I have a good relationship with those guys.
I just feel very blessed to be a part of such a great Patriots organization. To play for Mr. Robert Kraft and Jonathan and the Kraft family. And to play for coach Bill Belichick. Ive been very fortunate in my life. Like I said last night, I never take it for granted. Im just very grateful. I think thats how I really feel.
On officiating in the postseason
I always feel like the calls even out over the course of a game. Sometimes they get them right, sometimes they get them wrong. Were used to that. Weve always done that. Thats how its been since we started playing this game in high school or some of us in peewee football. The refs miss calls. Thats just part of it. The best team usually ends up winning. The refs I think do a great job in the playoffs. You see, they let us play a little bit more, which I think the players enjoy. Theres not the ticky-tack calls. I think they let us play, and thats how the players probably typically like it. You see who the toughest guys are, you play physical, its a physical game. Then you see whos the best team after four quarters of football.