The game between the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts on Sunday was not really expected to have a big impact on the playoff picture. Win or lose, both teams would still be in the same position they were in prior to the game (New England leading AFC East; Indianapolis in the thick of the wildcard hunt).
As luck—not Andrew—would have it, the game could end up having a pretty serious impact after all. Why you ask? New England ended up losing tight end Rob Gronkowski for 4-6 weeks due to a broken forearm.
The Gronk left the game in the fourth quarter following an extra point attempt and did not return. Some early talk had him suffering a leg injury, and since the game was well out of hand already there was no need to return. The truth ended up being much worse though.
Going forward this could end up being pretty significant for New England. Last season it was the tandem of Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez that led the way for the offense along with Wes Welker. Hernandez has been out for some time and now it looks like Gronk will be too. He reportedly already had surgery this morning.
It seems strange to say since the Patriots have the No. 1 offense in the league, but at times this season they have had trouble moving the ball. New England has lived by the pass the last few years, but have had to rely on the run a lot more.
That’s worked out pretty well for them so far; they currently have the No. 5 unit in the league averaging 142.9 yards a game. Part of its success has to be the constant threat of the passing game, but now that it looks like it is going to go through Welker, Julian Edelman, Danny Woodhead and Brandon Lloyd.
Welker is still a stud, but the other three have had success as role players in support of the big three (Gronk, Hernandez, and Welker). Should the passing game suffer the Pats may have trouble outscoring people; something they have relied on doing since their defense is suspect.
The Patriots are not the only playoff-caliber team that might end up on the outside looking in thanks to some key injuries. It was pretty evident Sunday night that Pittsburgh misses Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. The Steelers have also had to deal with a revolving door at running back thanks to injuries, and no Troy Polamalu on defense.
There is also Green Bay that’s had to do without Greg Jennings, Cedric Benson, Clay Mathews, and Charles Woodson. Missing Darren Sproles has made life harder on the Saints (who have had to deal with many other issues this season). Dallas has had an anemic running game without DeMarco Murray. The Ravens defense is missing Ray Lewis, and there is no telling when the Bears will get Jay Cutler back just yet. Now Alex Smith is also going to be out of tonight's game due to the concussion he suffered last week.
And those are just the teams in the playoff hunt!
Injuries suck, but they are still a part of the game. It’s a shame to see a team fall out of contention due to one or more key players missing time, but there is a reason why you have back-ups. This season it could very well be the team with the best back-ups that wins!