Patriots-Bengals: Pats Shouldn't Panic, but Need Rob Gronkowski Against Saints

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Patriots-Bengals: Pats Shouldn't Panic, but Need Rob Gronkowski Against Saints
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
The Patriots need to see this next week against the New Orleans Saints.

The NFL likes to give teams a chance to set or break records against the former record holder.

The NFL gave the Patriots the chance to have Tom Brady tie the record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass against the New Orleans Saints in Week 6.

Unfortunately, Brady didn't manage to get a touchdown pass in the Patriots' ugly Week 5 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, a 13–6 loss on the road.

The blame for this loss, in my opinion, has to go almost entirely to the offense. Yes, the defense did allow the Bengals to convert a third-and-long in their own end zone for the only touchdown of the game, but, nevertheless, when a defense allows only 13 points and takes no accepted penalties at all—just see the box score from ESPN.com—they deserve only a tiny share of the blame. 

To be fair, the biggest problem the Patriots have is a lack of talent on offense. Although they did get wide receiver Danny Amendola back, they played this week without their top two running backs, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, as well as their All-Pro tight end, Rob Gronkowski.

Yes, the Patriots had a rather horrific offseason, allowing three of their top five weapons in the passing game to leave. But that's under the bridge now. They can't go back in time and re-sign Danny Woodhead or Wes Welker. So there really isn't any point in criticizing the Patriots for things they can't change.

Against the Saints, Rob Gronkowski

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The one thing that does appear to be under control is their handling of Gronkowski. According to Fox Sports' Josh Katzowitz, Gronkowski has been targeting a return in Week 6—next week, against the Saints.

On the other hand, two weeks ago, Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com reported the opinion that if the Patriots were in a playoff game, Gronkowski would play.

The Patriots gritted out some of their first few wins, so it was okay—not optimal, but okay—for them to give Gronkowski more time. After all, an argument could easily be made that injuries to Gronkowski the last two seasons have ruined their Super Bowl chances, so they need him healthy in January.

On the other hand, having Gronkowski healthy in January doesn't help if they're sitting at home. Also, historically, the Patriots have never reached the Super Bowl under Bill Belichick without having a first-round bye. Given that the Patriots have already lost Vince Wilfork for the season, they'll be much better off if they only need two victories to reach the Super Bowl than three.

Having Gronkowski on the field maximizes the likelihood of them doing that. He won't fix all the problems the Patriots offense has right now, but he does fix a lot of them, since he can block well or run routes well on any given play; he presents a far bigger problem for defenses than either Michael Hoomanawanui or Matthew Mulligan.

This loss will likely prompt calls for the Patriots to make a rash move like, for example, bringing in Terrell Owens. The Patriots should resist that move. They should get a significant influx of talent as their players heal up, and any money they spend now will reduce their ability to retain key free agents such as Aqib Talib this offseason. (The Patriots signed Austin Collie as an insurance policy this week; he wasn't active.)

This loss stings, but a return by Gronk should make a huge difference.

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