Hernandez went down with an ankle injury in Week 2, and the Pats never recovered, losing at home in a shocking upset to the Arizona Cardinals.
That shock to the system hinted that perhaps Hernandez would be severely missed, but the Pats quickly adjusted. In the team's subsequent loss in Baltimore on Sunday Night Football, the defense was the main culprit. Brady and Co. didn't turn the ball over, and put 30 points on the board, but New England yielded over 500 yards of offense to the Ravens.
In Buffalo last week, the Bills built an early 21-7 lead, and it looked to spell doom for the Pats in Ralph Wilson Stadium for the second year in a row.
Until Tom Terrific took them to task, that is. 35 unanswered points later, the game was over.
Despite facing a divisional opponent with a sense of familiarity and a golden opportunity to put two games between them and the defending AFC East champs, New England obliterated a weak Bills defense. All without the multifaceted skill set of Hernandez.
The third-year tight end blocks and catches the ball exceptionally well, and he'll even wander into the backfield to take handoffs from time to time. There may not be more of a swiss army knife tight end in football than Hernandez, which is exactly the type of player Bill Belichick loves to have.
In ranking first in the league in points per game, and first in total yards per game, the Pats are at the point where they don't need to hand the ball to Hernandez anymore.
Recently, New England has managed to do just enough in the ground game to complement the explosive passing attack. After ranking 20th in 2011 in rushing yards per game, the Pats rank eighth in that same category through the first four games of this season.
Most of that is thanks to the emergence of second-year back Stevan Ridley, but undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden had a coming-out party of sorts in Week 4 himself. Combine that with the sneaky running and receiving ability of Danny Woodhead, and the Pats suddenly have an extremely dynamic backfield.
The Buffalo game provided a glimpse of what Brady and the offense can do when firing on all cylinders—with or without Hernandez.
While it certainly doesn't hurt the cause to have him in the lineup, New England is better off sitting him in a home game in which they are favored by a touchdown.
An upcoming trip to Seattle will pit the Pats against the most athletic front-seven in football, and one of the best young secondaries in the game. Seahawks corners Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are huge and physical, and will likely put the clamps down on the outside, leaving Hernandez to attack the middle of the field.
Exploiting the inexperienced linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright in man coverage will provide New England with its biggest matchup advantage, especially when Gronkowski still has to be accounted for.
For the benefit of the team's seemingly imminent postseason run—and the current context of the schedule—the Pats can survive a week longer to ensure Hernandez is healthy.
This move will make the offense that much more explosive as the season wears on. The closer Hernandez is to 100 percent, the longer defensive coordinators will be kept up at night to game plan for what might be the most balanced offense Belichick and Brady have ever had.
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