It depends on whose opinion you're reading. And there are plenty of them out there.
Losing anything from a tight end who caught 17 touchdown passes is a big blow. He's the best weapon the Patriots have. Few teams could handle such a blow, not just physically, but mentally as well. Few teams would be able to soldier on with such instant adversity.
These Patriots can.
These Patriots have a resolve of reinforced steel. Their mental toughness is at a championship level. There is no hurdle, not one, that the Patriots have faced this year that they haven't met with a level-headed, confident approach.
At this point, it's woven in their DNA. When the going gets tough, the Patriots get tougher. And the going's been pretty rough at times.
"It helped develop our mental toughness, all the stories that you guys were writing," linebacker Jerod Mayo said. He was referring to the defensive lows from midseason, but his words apply to the rest of the criticism the Patriots—despite a 13-3 record, No. 1 seed and AFC championship—have faced.
"It helped build our mental toughness and at the same time it helped our versatility," he said, "being able to put different players in the game and doing things like that."
That mental toughness showed itself a week-and-a-half ago in the AFC championship game. Tom Brady wasn't sharp, the offense couldn't put the game away and the beleaguered defense had to keep the Baltimore Ravens off the board three straight drives. They succeeded.
The end of the regular season was also an example in resilience. The Patriots trailed Miami 17-0 at halftime in Week 16 and Buffalo 21-0 in Week 17. They outscored those opponents 76-7 from then on and won both games.
There's little reason to expect anything besides that poise on Sunday if Gronkowski is limited. The best way to deal with a setback is to do your job better. No exceptions.
"The thing is, everyone has to do their job," receiver Deion Branch said. "I'm going to go out and do my job, everybody else is going to do their job ... Whatever the game plan is, we're going to go out and execute it."
That's the code—and it's such a contrast from a mere two years ago. The 2009 Patriots had a resolve of Silly Putty, a will with the strength and durability of a popsicle stick. The Patriots then were interested only in blowing teams out. If the opponent or game showed the slightest bit of a challenge, the team quit. The players cashed out and went through the motions the rest of the way.
Take, for example, the loss of Wes Welker to a torn ACL in the final week of the season. Welker was the heart, soul and hands of the Patriots offense that year, and when he went down, the players made it seem like everything was okay in Fort Foxborough. The damage was controlled. They would find a way, they said.
And then the Wild Card Game against the Ravens began, and the Patriots never showed up.
That's not the case this year. Nowhere close. The Patriots now are built to fight. They want to fight. They won't accept anything less than leaving their absolute best on the field.
So if Gronk can't go? Or if he can't be himself? It's a tough break. It might be too tough a break. It's not the boldest statement to suggest that the Patriots can't beat the Giants without Gronkowski.
But the Patriots won't buy it. They'll be ready to go. After all, it's just another obstacle.
NOTE: This is my 100th article for the site. Thanks for the reads, everyone. Here's to 100 more.
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