Aaron Hernandez: Losing Star TE Won't Hurt Patriots' Offense Long-Term

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistSeptember 18, 2012

Sep 16, 2012; Foxboro, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez (81) is helped off the field by trainers during the first quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at Gillette Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE

When New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez went down with a cringe-inducing ankle injury in the first quarter of Sunday's 20-18 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, most feared and received the worst possible result. 

First and foremost, the New England offense struggled mightily without Hernandez.

Despite the yardage numbers looking fine (the Patriots gained 387 yards, just three fewer than in Week 1), it's where the Patriots could not gain yards that was most troubling: in Cardinals' territory.

Employing a bend-but-not-break strategy, the Cardinals allowed New England to soar right up the field before clamping down in their own area. 

Prior to missing the potential game-winning 42-yard field goal, Stephen Gostkowski had drained four others earlier in the game.

Undoubtedly, Arizona deserves credit. The defensive strategy was brilliant and the unit executed it to perfection.

However, the onus is just as much on New England's inability to adjust without Hernandez. And with the former Florida Gator being out 4-6 weeks (via NFL Network's Marc Sessler), many are worried about the Patriots' prospects going forward. 

Well, don't fret. If history tells us anything, it's that Hernandez's injury should not affect the Patriots long-term.

Though none of his injuries are chronic or especially recurring, this isn't exactly the third-year tight end's first time being listed on the injury report. Hernandez missed two games in 2010 and 2011, both with knee injuries.

New England's record in those games: 3-1.

Sure, many were predicting a huge breakout 2012 campaign, and the 22-year-old stud looked on his way to delivering in New England's 34-13 win over the Tennessee Titans in Week 1. 

Those predictions will undoubtedly not come to fruition this season. It just so happens that losing Hernandez will hurt your fantasy team more than it does the Patriots' on-field product. 

Despite his failure to properly adjust against Arizona, Josh McDaniels is one of the NFL's most talented offensive coordinators. With McDaniels, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in the fold, the Patriots should be able reconstruct on the fly—especially with the signing of Kellen Winslow (via ESPN Boston's James Walker). 

The 29-year-old Winslow is not the player he once was, but still managed a more-than-respectable 75 catches, 763 yards and two touchdowns last season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

For a temporary replacement, the Patriots could have done infinitely worse. And, quite frankly, even if Hernandez's injury stretches all the way until Halloween, the effect will be almost negligible. 

Other than next week's tilt on the road against the Baltimore Ravens, each of New England's next six games are extremely winnable. Outside of Baltimore, the only "tests" are home games against the Denver Broncos and New York Jets, both games where the Patriots will come in as heavy favorites. 

And, even if the team floats its way to a mediocre 4-2 record, no team in the AFC East has shown enough consistency to challenge for the divisional crown. 

Let's also remember that the Patriots are not a standard organization. Brady and Belichick are no longer judged on regular season win-loss totals, playoff seeding, etc. Instead, they have reached the rarefied air of Tiger Woods, Roger Federer and the New York Yankees—championship or bust.

By the time the playoffs roll around, Hernandez will have had at least eight games of regular season action to get ingratiated back with the offense.

Barring a catastrophic injury to Brady, the Patriots will waltz into the playoffs as Super Bowl contenders and no one will even remember Hernandez's injury come January.