New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) pulls in a reception as he is chased down by Cincinnati Bengals safety Shawn Williams in the fourth quarter at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts on October 16, 2016. The Patriots defeated the Bengals 35-17. Photo by Matthew Healey/ UPI | License Photo
Rob Gronkowski (back surgery) was placed on injured reserve Dec. 3 and a day later the New England offense certainly looked like a unit without its most proven, talented pass-catching playmaker.
Despite controlling the game on the way to the 26-10 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, the Patriots offense converted a season-worst 25-percent of third downs (four of 16) and saw four drives end disappointingly in field goals.
Ready for it or not, New England has to move forward without the tight end who was leading the NFL with a 21.6-yard average before being lost for the season.
"That's always tough because he's a huge piece to this team and without him, everyone is just going to have to do their job that much better and we're just going to have to find ways to win games," said wide receiver Julian Edelman, who paced the Patriots with eight catches for 101 yards against L.A.
"So, it starts in the classroom, taking that to practice and then really showing guys we can do this in practice and then that becomes game realities. It's going to be a lot tougher without him out there, that's for sure, but as long as we continue to improve and gain confidence, that's the ultimate goal."
Edelman wasn't the only Patriots player who missed Gronkowski, either. His quarterback felt the void as well.
"I said earlier in the week, he's a big loss because he's such a integral factor in what we do, but we'll keep fighting on," Tom Brady said. "I think we've still got a lot of other players who can fight as well. We're going to have to keep doing it, he's not coming back."