New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said Monday morning that having played without Rob Gronkowski for five full games this season has his offense ready to move forward without the third-year tight end, who will miss the remainder of the postseason after breaking his left forearm Sunday.
“Sure. I think we put much more time in this year than we — for example, like last year, when we played the Super Bowl, it was our first game without him in two years,” Brady said during his weekly appearance on the “Dennis and Callahan Show” on Boston sports radio station WEEI. “Not that that’s any excuse because there are no excuses, but there’s an uncertainty of how guys are going to play and step in. Well we know now, we know the types of packages we’ll use and what we’ll do and the different ways we’ll try to find some weakness in the defense based on our groups and so forth.”
It was the same arm that Gronkowski broke Nov. 18 against the Indianapolis Colts. Gronkowski missed five games because of the original injury but played in New England’s regular-season finale against the Miami Dolphins.
Gronkowski, who had a team-leading 11 touchdown catches this season, will require a second surgery on his arm, sources told ESPN.
Gronkowski, who had the forearm heavily wrapped, appeared to suffer the injury while attempting to make a catch in the first quarter. The two-time Pro Bowler returned to the Patriots’ sideline early in the second half but eventually departed with members of the team’s medical staff and did not return to New England’s 41-28 victory over the Texans.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick credited both Shane Vereen and Michael Hoomanawanui for stepping up Sunday to fill Gronkowski’s absence.
“It’s disappointing to not have Rob available, but I thought that Shane and Hooman both did a great job of stepping in to the game yesterday,” he said.
When asked if Gronkowski was 100 percent entering the game, Belichick reiterated what he said Sunday.
“I covered that yesterday. He was cleared medically,” he said. When pressed for more information, he adamantly responded, “I don’t have anything to add to it.”
Brady added that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ ability to excel when the team has had to adjust this season gives him confidence.
“That’s what Josh does better than anybody else that I’ve been around; his ability to adjust like he’s done all season,” he said. “That’s just the way it’s gone. I think we’ve played a bunch of games now, we’ve never really been fully healthy, and obviously now won’t be.
“But you know what? We’ve still got a very good team and there’s different guys that step up and make those big time plays, whether it’s Wes [Welker] or Brandon [Lloyd] or Deion [Branch] or Shane or Rid [Stevan Ridley] or Woody [Danny Woodhead], Aaron Hernandez had another big game. They’ve got to stop all of us, and that’s what we’ve got to continue to do this week.”
Woodhead also was injured against Houston when he hurt his thumb carrying the ball on the Patriots’ first offensive play. The club provided no update on his condition Sunday but Belichick said Monday that the running back could have re-entered the game if he was needed.
“Now that we are into a new week, we will re-address the whole situation and try to get a good feel of what he would and wouldn’t be available to do, and how functional he would be doing it,” Belichick said. “So I would say that’s something we’ll have to look at during the week.
“Assuming the doctors clear him to play, which is a medical decision, then the next situation would be from a football decision, what can he do and how well can he do it? & That would all be determined at a later point in time.”
Brady and his team will now focus their attention on the AFC Championship Game and the Baltimore Ravens, a team they lost to back in Week 3. Brady said he’ll use that tape to study this week, while also noting the familiarity between the two teams, who also met in last season’s AFC title game.
“We learn from the last game, but like I said last week, it’s just more of a few matchups and so forth,” Brady said. “I think you get a feel for some coverages, but we’ve played them enough where we know the players, we know their strengths, we’ll just work hard to see what they’ve done since our game. There’s a lot of tape to be watched, but they’re playing their best football right now.
“The way their offense played [against the Broncos on Saturday], I did see a few of those Torrey Smith catches and those were incredible. He had a great game against us and he had a great game on Saturday. They’ve got a very good offense, very good defense, they’ve got some Pro Bowl special teams guys, they’ve got a great team and they’re very well coached. That’s why they’re in the same position that they were last year. I feel the same way about us. I feel we’ve got the best coaching, we’ve got a lot of mentally tough players, physically tough players that are going to be facing our toughest challenge of the year. I know we’ll be ready for it when we kickoff next week.”
Before the Patriots had even punched their ticket to the AFC title game, Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo fueled the anticipation for this week’s game with some inflammatory remarks on Twitter about the Patriots’ offense, referring to the Patriots’ up-tempo attack as a “gimmick.”
Ayanbadejo later apologized for his comments in a Monday tweet.
Asked whether his team would once again push the tempo against the Ravens next week, Brady replied. “We’re going to play the style that we’ve played all year. I don’t know what we are going to do. I just woke up this morning.”
Brady made it clear that he didn’t need the remarks for motivation, instead focusing on the fact that his team is one win away from a return to the Super Bowl.
“That’s the only motivation we need,” he said. “That’s the ultimate motivation.”