After Rob Gronkowski left Sunday’s game against the Broncos with a late leg injury, Tom Brady threw passes to a 30-year-old backup who was very clear about that role, a rookie with more lost fumbles than NFL receptions, Brandon LaFell, and a backup running back with 22 career carries. It didn’t go well.

The Patriots have been decimated by injuries. Gronk now joins Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, and Dion Lewis as injured would-be receivers, and Brady has about one NFL-level wide receiver left to throw to. The defense is also hurting, with Jamie Collins still possibly out with a mysterious illness. This is a pretty remarkable string of bad health for the 10-1 Patriots.

Of course, this is something they’ve dealt with before. Brady can make mediocre receivers out of bad ones, and he’ll have to do it again. As unstoppable as they’ve been, the Patriots are starting to fray around the edges for the first time all season. Cincinnati and Denver are only one game behind New England for the #1 seed in the AFC.

Thankfully for them, they have only two more games against teams with winning records. Whether or not they can win them with backups and a glued-together defense is a tricky prospect, but not an impossible one. After all, they still have Brady and sketchy-as-hell Bill Belichick.


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