For most teams, losing someone as productive and physically intimidating as Gronkowski would be devastating.
But not for the Patriots.
At least that's the general consensus of many national and local experts.
Let's take a look at what they're saying.
Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN, and the respected beat writer did a live shot after New England's win in the divisional round, and said the following regarding Gronkowski's injury:
Afterwards, in the locker room, a lot of attention placed on the backup tight ends along with Aaron Hernandez as to how the Patriots will proceed without Gronkowski. Of course, they have some experience doing this playing five games without him at the end of the regular season. Michael Hoomanawanui now becomes a big part of the Patriots attack, as he was against the Texans in this game.
He's right. The Illinois product who has, easily, the hardest last name to pronounce in the NFL right now, will be a facet of New England's offense heading into the AFC title game.
However, Hoomanawanui didn't record a catch against the Texans, and he clearly isn't as formidable a receiver as Gronkowski.
His presence will mainly be felt as a blocker.
Sports Illustrated's Don Banks sees the loss of Gronkowski in a similar light to that of Reiss, but he didn't necessarily single out Hoomanawanui as the sole player who'll step in to replace him.
Banks addressed how the Patriots will respond to the loss of their most physically intimidating tight end: "Everyone in New England's locker room talked about what a huge loss Gronk will be in the playoffs, but they quickly added that someone else will invariably step up and fill the void."
I agree with the vagueness here. Saying "someone" will step up is better than saying that Hoomanawanui, a player who had five receptions on seven targets for 109 yards in 2012, will be the guy.
It's always smart to get a local take on team advancing deep into the playoffs, and Luke Hughes of NESN.com offered his succinct analysis of the situation:
Gronkowski is the best tight end in the NFL and the Patriots’ best offensive weapon, so his loss clearly presents a major problem for New England on its hopeful journey to New Orleans. But with weapons like Hernandez, Welker and Lloyd at the ready, Brady is more than equipped to weather the storm.
We saw in last year's Super Bowl how a hindered Gronkowski limited the Patriots' offensive attack against the New York Giants.
The Baltimore Ravens won't have to dedicate one moment of practice to how they'll stop the beastly tight end—that's huge.
However, Hughes echoes the sentiments of Reiss and Banks in regards to the plethora of weapons at Tom Brady's disposal.
Sports Illustrated's Peter King explained what happens when Gronkowski isn't in the Patriots lineup:
Aaron Hernandez was targeted 51 times by Tom Brady in the five games Gronkowski missed; he's simply interchangeable with Gronkowski, even though they're different players.
And the fact is, Brady wouldn't care who his weapons are. He's going to find receivers. In New England's 10-1 run, Brady's thrown 27 touchdown with just five interceptions, and his command of Josh McDaniels' offense is at an all-time high. Blitz him, he kills you. Play seven in coverage, he'll take the checkdown and move the chains. Get his favorite receivers hurt (Gronkowski's out now, and Danny Woodhead, with a thumb injury, might be), he'll find Shane Vereen five times for 83 years and two touchdowns.
King also astutely pointed out that New England averaged one fewer point and a mere 16 fewer yards in the five regular season games without Gronkowski.
The moral of the story here—Tom Brady is the ultimate equalizer.
Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports offered his opinion on the Gronkowski situation, responding to a quote from Aaron Hernandez after the win over the Texans:
"It's hard to replace a player like [Gronk] because he's a freak of nature," said Hernandez, who at 6'1", 245 isn't far behind him. "[He] definitely helps me out because so much attention is on him. Everyone has to step up. It's a big loss and you can't replace a player like him."
So they won't try, per se. They'll just go with what they've got and not worry about what ifs.
It's how it is with every winning team, although New England may do it better than anyone else.
Hernandez and Wetzel are both correct.
The Patriots have experienced life without Gronkowski before, and it'd be stunning if they let his absence limit what they do on offense.
Yes, all the good teams adapt well, but New England and Bill Belichick truly do adapt "better than anyone else."