Patriots offense will adapt post-Rob Gronkowski, says NBC crew

ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 03: Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots talks with Tom Brady #12 in the second half during Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on February 3, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 03: Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots talks with Tom Brady #12 in the second half during Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on February 3, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

Tony Dungy, Rodney Harrison, and Mike Florio of NBC’s “Football Night in America” discussed in depth the Patriots offense sans Rob Gronkowski.

With a little more than a week to go before the New England Patriots kick off their 2019 season, one important absence still looms large over this franchise and its hopes of being the first team to repeat as Super Bowl champs since the Pats did it themselves in 2004 and 2005.

That absence is retired superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski, who spent the better part of the past decade proving to anyone with eyes that he was the most dominant, game-breaking offensive threat since peak Randy Moss.

Gronkowski decided to hang up his cleats in an emotional Instagram post last March. Citing a long and complicated injury history, as well as his desire to live a more pain-free life, Gronk so far hasn’t admitted much remorse, regret, or even second-guessing regarding his decision. And while as a human being with a heart you have to be happy for him if that’s truly the case; as a Patriots fan, it’s more than a little bit discouraging and disappointing.

After all, Gronkowski is still just 30 years old. Most tight ends his age would be in the prime of their careers, and while almost no one ever seriously thought the former Arizona Wildcat would try and play into his mid-40s like Tom Brady (and really, who else do we think will play into their mid-40s besides the occasional kicker?), there’s still a pervading sense that Gronk walked away from the game well before he might have been forced to leave.

Not that that’s a bad thing. Andrew Luck’s recent shocking retirement announcement could signal the beginning of more and more NFL players – even the best ones – choosing their physical and mental futures and health over the game they love so much, even if such a decision kills them just a little bit inside every day after.

For the Patriots, at least the team looks primed to go on being the perennial powerhouse they’ve been the last 20 years in 2019 once again. Sporting enviable depth on their already-lockdown defense, and with numerous new receiving threats and an incredible run game coming into full bloom, the Pats look like the team to beat in the NFL again.

Those observations were echoed by the three minds who make up NBC’s “Football Night in America” program: Rodney Harrison, Tony Dungy, and Mike Florio. As shared by’s Hayden Bird, all three media analysts seemed fairly bullish on New England’s outlook this season, even without the services of trusty No. 87 out there at tight end.

“The good news for the rest of the league [is] they don’t have to deal with Gronk,” said Dungy, who famously coached Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in several high-stakes duels against Bill Belichick’s Patriots during the 2000s. “The bad news is that means the ball’s in Tom Brady’s hands. Tom is going to have to be the focal point, and he can still do it. He knows where to go with the ball.”

Rodney Harrison, recently elected to the Patriots Hall of Fame, didn’t seem to agree with Dungy completely. While he also expressed confidence in New England’s prowess even without Gronkowski, he differed in thinking that Brady would be the “focal point” for the Pats in 2019, suggesting instead that the offense would flow through the run game.

“I think they’re going to run the ball, play-action pass,” Harrison countered. “Whenever Ben Watson gets back — he’s suspended for four games — he’ll be a big part of that offense. Other than that, I think it’s the same thing: short, intermediate passes and running the football.”

Of the three analysts, Florio had the take that may appeal the most to New Englanders:

"“I’m not ready to say it’s post-Gronk. I think there’s a good chance he comes back this year. Someone had pegged it at 40 percent earlier this summer that he’ll return, and if Tom Brady ever picks up the phone and makes that personal plea to Rob Gronkowski, that’d be a huge factor.”"

Next. Bayless says Stidham may replace Brady this season. dark

Until that phone call and “personal plea” occurs, the New England Patriots will have to get by without Rob Gronkowski this season. Whether or not he does ever end up back on the field, it’s got to at least be encouraging to hear so much positivity and belief in this team’s chances for success, even without the greatest tight end in franchise history.