Although the New England Patriots have started the 2013 season 2-0, all is not well in Foxboro. The potential return of All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski from injury understandably has Pats fans excited, however, it will take more than that for New England to be a Super Bowl contender this year.
According to ESPN's Ed Werder, "Gronk" could return in Week 3 when the Patriots face the 0-2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but it is far from a guarantee.
Tom Brady coming off first game in 4 years without targeting TE even once. I'm told Pats believe a 50-50 chance Rob Gronkowski plays Sunday— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) September 17, 2013
There is no doubt that Gronkowski will give the Patriots a boost when he does come back, as he has been one of the league's most dominant tight ends over the past couple seasons. Gronkowski's 2011 campaign was arguably the best by a tight end in NFL history as he racked up more than 1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns, and he was great in 2012 as well despite missing five games.
Gronk is a vital element in New England's passing game, which is evidenced by the fact that quarterback Tom Brady didn't trust his other tight ends enough to even look in their direction against the New York Jets in Week 2.
Aside from Gronkowski, though, the Pats are still severely lacking in the offensive weapon department. New England lost plenty this past offseason as Wes Welker signed with the Denver Broncos, and both Brandon Lloyd and Aaron Hernandez were released. The Patriots tried to recoup some of that by signing slot receiver Danny Amendola, but the oft-injured player missed Week 2 with a groin injury, and is uncertain moving forward, according to Field Yates of ESPNBoston.com.
Danny Amendola (groin) working gingerly through drills. Apparent that groin issue is limiting him at this point.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) September 16, 2013
Brady had one of his worst games in recent memory Week 2 against the New York Jets, according to ESPN Stats & Info, and even though the Patriots won, they can't continue to play that way.
Tom Brady's 24.2 Total QBR was his worst in a game since 2011 Week 11 vs Chiefs (23.7, also in a game Patriots won)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 13, 2013
When Gronkowski returns he'll have to work his way back to top form as he didn't play in the preseason, so he can't be counted upon to be elite right away. Also, it remains to be seen when Amendola will be back in the picture. Aside from them, Brady only has Julian Edelman and a triumvirate of rookies in Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson and Zach Sudfeld to catch his throws.
Even New England's running game is a huge question mark after it played such an integral role last season. Shane Vereen looked fantastic in Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills, but a broken wrist will keep him out until at least Week 11, according to Shalise Manza Young of the Boston Globe.
#Patriots announce they've placed RB Shane Vereen on IR/designated to return, meaning he's out minimum of 8 weeks— shalise manza young (@shalisemyoung) September 10, 2013
Stevan Ridley was excellent last season, but head coach Bill Belichick seems to have lost some confidence in him as a bell-cow back. Ridley didn't see the field after fumbling early in Week 1 against the Bills, and he gained only 40 yards against the Jets in Week 2.
The defense has held up its end of the bargain by giving up just 31 points over its first two games, but the Bills and Jets don't exactly possess juggernaut offenses. With teams like the Atlanta Falcons, Cincinnati Bengals, New Orleans Saints, Denver Broncos and Houston Texans on the schedule this season, the Patriots will have to score points in order to win games.
Brady completed under 50 percent of his passes for 185 yards on Thursday, and the Pats actually had more punts than first downs, which is something that simply can't happen moving forward.
The Patriots won despite having more punts (11) than 1st downs (9). It was the 1st such win for them in Belichick era (since 2000).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 13, 2013
Will Rob Gronkowski's return restore the Patriots' luster?
New England may still be able to win a weak AFC East in its current state, but there is no chance that the Patriots will get past the likes of the Broncos, Bengals and Texans come playoff time. Winning the division may even be a stretch at this point based on how well the Miami Dolphins have started off, so there is definitely reason to be concerned.
Brady and the offense will feel more at ease once Gronkowski comes back, but Gronk isn't a miracle worker. The Patriots have been able to make up for losses through injuries and free agency with relative ease for the better part of a decade, but that may finally be catching up with them.
As long as Brady is playing the Patriots are a dangerous team, however, for the first time in a very long time, it doesn't appear as though they are a threat to challenge for a Super Bowl title.
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