Other than Tom Brady, the member of the Patriots who might miss Rob Gronkowski the most is offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, since he calls plays and helps concoct the game plan.
Losing the star tight end is nothing new, though, with injuries forcing Gronkowski to miss 12 of New England’s past 21 games. So McDaniels has been in this position before, and knows all about the challenges that come with it.
“We’ve experienced playing without him before,” said McDaniels on the weekly coaches teleconference Tuesday. “I don’t know if we’re better equipped, I’m not exactly sure how to rate that.
“I just know that any time you lose a player like that or you can’t use a player like that, you need to put your time into a few different things, and other people have to play different roles.
“You play offense a little differently, and we do have experience doing that. We did it at the beginning of this year for a significant number of weeks, we did it in the offseason, we did it last year during the course of the season as well, so we’ve experienced this before.
“I think for that reason, we kind of have an idea of exactly what we need to use and how to kind of formulate our game plan to max out our strengths and try to make up for the loss of a very unique player.”
Gronkowski was lost for the season Sunday after suffering a serious knee injury in the win over the Browns. He was limited to just seven games this season, one of them the 27-17 home win Oct. 27 over Miami, which is Sunday’s opponent. Gronkowski had just two catches for 27 yards in that win (a season-low for yards, and tied for a season-low in receptions), but McDaniels said he expects the defensive game plan from the Dolphins — and every other upcoming opponent — will be different now that Gronkowski isn’t in the mix.
“You definitely have to anticipate [a change in game plan]. When you have players that can be as productive as Rob has been, some defenses pay a tremendous amount of attention to him and have done that to other players on our team at different times, where they may say they want to try to double him, may say they want to try to jam him or bump him or do different things, and you can tell that that was really their plan going into the game, because it’s obvious that they changed some of the things that you had seen on film to do those things,” McDaniels said. “When he’s not in there, then certainly they may be more inclined to do more of the things that they’re used to doing, and they don’t necessarily need to account for a player at that position to be such an incredible challenge as you presented.”
Bill Belichick wasn’t asked about Gronkowski — plenty of those questions came after the game Sunday, then again on Monday — but he did comment on, among other things, the clutch performances the past two weeks from kicker Stephen Gostkowski. In Houston, Gostkowski made a pair of 53-yard field goals in the fourth quarter of a 34-31 win; the first tied the game, the second provided the winning points.
On Sunday against the Browns, Gostkowski booted a 50-yard field goal, then obviously played a pivotal role in the successful onside kick.
“He’s had a couple of pretty clutch weeks. I think it would be hard to be much more clutch than that. So much of whatever a kicker does is just based on opportunity. You have to be ready, but you don’t know when you come to the stadium whether you’re going to be kicking field goals, kicking extra points, not kicking at all, onside kicking, and so forth,” Belichick said. “I think part of it for Steve is just not only did he get it done, but it was a very infrequent play and it was at the most critical time and without it, we wouldn’t have won. All those things are impressive.”
The Dec. 22 game between the Patriots and Ravens in Baltimore has been moved by the NFL out of its prime-time slot and will instead be played at 4:25 p.m. A rematch of the last two AFC Championship games, Patriots-Ravens was initially scheduled for an 8:30 p.m. telecast on NBC. Now it will be broadcast on CBS. In its place on NBC will be the Bears at Eagles. Both teams are in the NFC playoff mix . . . The New England Patriots Charitable Foundation welcomed more than 250 children in need Tuesday night for the 20th annual Children’s Holiday Party at Gillette Stadium. Children representing a dozen groups, from the Salvation Army to the Home for Little Wanderers, were expected to attend . . . The Dolphins are 4-2 since losing to the Patriots in Week 8, and have won two straight. When the teams met Oct. 27, Miami came in on a three-game losing streak. “It looks like when we played them before was kind of at the end of a little bit of a bad stretch for them, but they’ve certainly played well lately. They’ve won four of the last six and been real competitive in the two games they dropped,” Belichick said, noting Miami’s losses to Tampa Bay (22-19) and Carolina (20-16).