Patriots offense doesn't skip a beat
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - There is no debating how much tight end Rob Gronkowski does for Tom Brady and the Patriots offense when he's on the field. Opponents just can't cover him.
One of the biggest story lines heading into Thursday night's 49-19 drubbing of the Jets was how much of an impact Gronkowski's absence would have on the offense.
If Thursday night was the barometer, the answer can be summed up rather succinctly: not much at all.
Some feared points would be much harder to come by - and the offense would be much easier to shut down - while the 6-foot-6, 265-pound matchup nightmare recovers from a broken forearm. But the Pats reminded everyone they are more than just the Gronk Show.
When you get past all the Jets ineptness, there were some very good indicators in evidence about how well the Pats will cope.
In the areas Gronkowski is most noted to be a weapon and most recognized as Brady's security blanket, the Pats weren't the least bit affected. Not for this game, anyway.
Third down? They converted 11 of 15 attempts.
Red zone? They were 3 for 3.
Beyond that, they piled up 475 total yards, with Brady throwing for 323 with three touchdowns.
Those numbers are amazing, considering not only Gronk wasn't there, but two key members of the offensive line (Logan Mankins, Sebastian Vollmer) also were missing. But again, the fear was the offense would crumple up and disappear, or at least be easier to shut down without its best weapon. That didn't happen.
That's not to diminish the Pats' all-world tight end, who can't get well fast enough. But the point is, the Pats still have plenty left over in the cabinet to survive his absence in the short term.
''I think it was just everyone stepping up, doing their jobs, doing it the way they're supposed to and trying to contribute in any way they can,'' said Wes Welker, who had seven catches for 71 yards and a touchdown. ''A lot of guys stepped up tonight and made a lot of big plays. And that's what we need (without Gronk). It was good to see.''
Before leaving with an apparent concussion, Julian Edelman was getting more playing time, just as he did in Sunday's game against the Colts, and he made good use of those snaps. He caught a 56-yard touchdown pass from Brady in a wild second quarter. He also was Johnny on the spot, picking up a fumble on a kickoff and returning it 22 yards for a score.
Running back Shane Vereen's receiving skills were put to good use, as both he and Stevan Ridley lined up wide on occasion. Vereen had an 83-yard TD reception from Brady, taking a short pass and flying down the left sideline untouched.
''He had a wheel route ... there was a lot of space. Once I threw it to him, he's just so fast. He can outrun those guys,'' Brady said. "He cut it up the sideline. It was nice seeing the back of his jersey running all the way down the field. It was a great play."
The tight ends?
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels went with a two-receiver, two-tight end set and one running back against the Jets nickel defense. Daniel Fells, who was a healthy scratch against the Colts, lined up in the Gronk spots, filling most of his void. He caught one pass for 24 yards and blocked. Aaron Hernandez also returned to action as the second tight end while Visanthe Shiancoe wasn't used until scrub time.
''I feel like we did pretty well. There's room for improvement,'' said Hernandez, who caught two passes for 36 yards and had a touchdown called back for pushing off. ''That's why we have the next game.''
Hernandez looked a bit more like his old self on his first catch, making a quick cut and a pair of moves for an 18-yard gain. But he really wasn't a factor. He didn't need to be. Brady had plenty of other places to look, and the defense and special teams were putting up points, too.
The offense did start a bit slow, not scoring at all in the first quarter, but once Brady found his rhythm, the Jets were easy prey. After the three-touchdown-in-52-seconds blitz in the second quarter, New York was toast, and the first game without Gronk proved a piece of cake.
"We made some plays in some key situations to keep drives alive and in the end scoring,'' Welker said. "In the end, that's what it's all about.''