The New England Patriots will be starting the postseason on Saturday. For the offense, Martellus Bennett will be the X-Factor.
In the NFL Films “Do Your Job” documentary, Bill Belichick said that the New England Patriots’ playoff fortunes in 2011, 2012 and 2013 would have been much different if Rob Gronkowski was not injured.
2016 is another season where the team will make their Super Bowl run without their star tight end, but unlike those previous seasons, the team has a capable replacement on offer in Martellus Bennett. Brought in via trade from Chicago, Bennett has helped keep the Patriots offense going without their all star tight end.
Having been nursed through an ankle injury since the bye week, Bennett looms as the key to the performance of the Patriots offense throughout the next month. While not quite the athletic threat of Gronkowski, Bennett can create problems when lined up in similar spots.
He has developed a solid rapport with Tom Brady in that time including a three touchdown game in the return against Cleveland. His targets have been steady around the four or five mark in most games since Gronkowski was lost for the season but he has not been asked to do as much as possible, perhaps with one eye on January.
Against Houston in Week 3, operating out of a very limited passing offense, Bennett was targeted three times by Jacoby Brissett, catching two of them for ten yards. His role can go one of two ways, he could be asked to stay in and protect more often like he did in the season opener against Arizona. That was one of his most dominant displays despite a limited role in the passing game. Against Seattle he had his best game as a receiver catching all seven targets for over 100 yards.
With a variety of ways to contribute to the offense and a potentially clean bill of health, Bennett can serve as the reliable replacement to Gronkowski. While not quite the same player as the guy he is helping fill in for, he can be the closest thing to play in his place in recent years.