Monday night’s game against Baltimore will be the first real test for the Patriots since losing Rob Gronkowski for the season.
While the “next man up” talk is swell, and while everyone around here is suddenly convinced that Malcolm Mitchell is Randy Moss – make no mistake, the Patriots’ offense is going to be a shell of its 100 percent self with Gronk sidelined.
It is somewhat fitting that the Ravens are the first true test post-Gronk, as one of the more devastating losses in the Bill Belichick – Tom Brady era came at Gillette Stadium in the 2012 AFC Championship game, and a huge reason why the Pats lost that playoff game at home (unfathomable around these parts) to the Ravens was because Gronkowski was sidelined with a broken arm.
The Patriots were held to just 13 points in a convincing 28-13 loss that day, and Brady finished with a horrid 62.3 passer rating. He threw the ball a whopping 54 times but completed just 29 of his passes. He was picked off twice.
Of course, a lot has changed for both teams since then. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are retired, and while the Baltimore defense is good – it isn’t a great unit like that 2012 Super Bowl winning bunch.
Meanwhile, Brady has an entirely different cast of receivers. In that loss, Wes Welker caught eight balls, the scumbag who’s sitting in a cell in the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley right now caught nine balls, Brandon Lloyd caught seven balls, Shane Vereen caught two, Deion Branch caught two and Danny Woodhead caught one. With apologies to Jeff Fisher, none of those players are currently on the Patriots’ roster.
It’s up for debate whether or not you think the current crop of Patriots pass catchers are better than that group. Julian Edelman, Martellus Bennett, Mitchell, Chris Hogan, Dion Lewis and James White are all likely to be targeted by Brady this Monday night. (I’ll take the 2012 group, BTW.)
Edelman had his best game of the season last week against the Rams, catching eight balls for 101 yards. Personally, I don’t think Edelman’s looked right all season – but the statistics call bull poop on my eye balls. He’s caught 72 balls for 718 yards this season and is on pace for his first 100-catch, 1,000-yard season since 2013. He is trending in the right direction, at least.
Danny Amendola, who had his breakout game against the Ravens in the playoffs two years ago, will likely miss the rest of the regular season with a high ankle sprain. Even if Amendola is healthy for the playoffs, there hasn’t been much this season to suggest that he’s capable of having a monster receiving day anymore. The 31-year-old hasn’t caught more than three balls in a game since Jimmy Garoppolo was starting for the Pats and he hasn’t had even a 50-yard receiving day all year.
So far so good for Mitchell, as he has 17 catches for 222 yards and three touchdowns in the past three weeks. But it’s important to remember the small sample size here, and the fact that he was playing against the 49ers, Jets and Rams (combined record: 8-28).
Bennett didn’t exactly eat those teams alive as the No. 1 tight end in the Pats’ offense. After a 102-yard receiving day against the Seahawks in Week 10, Bennett has just six catches for 40 yards and zero touchdowns. He’s trending in the wrong direction.
All told, I don’t think things are going to be easy offensively for Brady and the Pats Monday night, or at any point moving forward.
We will be reminded often down the stretch and in the playoffs, just how much Gronk means to this team.