The New England Patriots' Super Bowl hopes have taken a major hit with the news that tight end Rob Gronkowski is set to undergo back surgery on Friday, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
Multiple-tight end packages will decline: When Gronkowski and fellow tight end Martellus Bennett were both healthy, the Patriots were primarily a two-tight end offense. Consider that entering their Nov. 20 game at San Francisco (in which Gronkowski did not play), the Patriots had run 245 plays with two or more tight ends on the field, which was the second-highest total in the NFL. At that point, Patriots' tight ends led NFL tight ends in receiving yards (1,044) and were tied for second in receiving touchdowns (seven). The Patriots won't stay with that approach without Gronkowski, as the next tight end on the depth chart is Matt Lengel, who has played in one career game. Lengel is more of a blocker, and part of the reason the Patriots leaned so heavily on the two-tight end package with Gronkowski and Bennett is the dual threat they provided -- both are strong blockers and also have receiver-like skills. So this takes away a big part of the way the Patriots like to dictate matchups.
Third receiver becomes a bigger factor, the story said. With the Patriots almost certainly going away from the two-tight end package, this shines a spotlight on the team's third and fourth receivers -- rookie Malcolm Mitchell and Danny Amendola.
Both Brady and Gronkowski will play against the Jets despite being questionable coming into this contest. Brady is battling a knee issue so the Pats could run a bit more but Brady is still worth a start in lineups and will be helped by the return of Gronk.