Originally posted on Larry Brown Sports  |  Last updated 11/19/12

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 02: Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots carries a reception into the endzone past Antrel Rolle of the New York Giants for a first quarter touchdown on September 2, 2010 at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
The New England Patriots may have put a whooping on the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, but they lost their second-most important offensive player in the process. Aside from Tom Brady, no player is more crucial to New England’s success on offense than Rob Gronkowski. Now that Gronk is expected to miss at least four weeks with a broken forearm, the Patriots will need to make some major adjustments. The stats speak for themselves. Gronkowski has hauled in 53 passes for 748 yards and a league-leading 10 touchdowns. But that doesn’t tell the entire story. Gronkowski is Brady’s favorite safety valve. Third down used to belong to Wes Welker, but now Brady seems to always look for his big tight end when the Patriots need to move the chains. Then, there’s the revitalized running game. Because of his importance in the passing game, Gronkowski is a tremendously underrated run blocker. The Patriots rank fifth in the NFL with 142.9 rushing yards per game. Much of that success is owed to the emergence of Stevan Ridley, but Gronk has been just as important in the run game as any other player along the Patriots offensive line. Aaron Hernandez is scheduled to return from an ankle injury against the Jets on Thursday night, which should help soften the blow a bit. However, he is not nearly as effective a blocker as Gronkowski and is far more one-dimensional. Backup tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui, Visanthe Shiancoe and Daniel Fells may be able to help as blockers, but can any of them become an effective option for Brady in the passing game? If you recall, Gronkowski was significantly banged up when the Patriots played the New York Giants in the Super Bowl nine months ago. Playing with a less-than-full strength Gronk didn’t go so well. Playing with an absent Gronk could be even worse. Photo credit: David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE
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