Quarterback Tom Brady said Monday morning that the New England Patriots' formula at tight end must shift to account for the absence of Rob Gronkowski, who tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee Sunday.
Gronkowski suffered the injuries in the third quarter after hauling in a pass up the seam from Brady. The two-time Pro Bowler took a direct hit to his right knee by Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward and fell to the ground, clearly in pain. A league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter on Monday that Gronkowski suffered two torn ligaments from the hit.
"It just shifts; you just have to find a different formula," Brady told the "Dennis & Callahan Show" on WEEI sports radio in Boston when asked whether the team's reserve tight ends are capable of doing what Gronkowski does. "I think that's the important part. And Gronk provides a certain margin of error because of how talented a player he is, and the other guys play different roles for us."
The Patriots have two other tight ends on the roster, veterans Matthew Mulligan and Michael Hoomanawanui, who missed his third straight game Sunday. Fullback James Develin has taken snaps at tight end on an as-needed basis.
"Those roles are going to have to shift, kind of what we did on the last two drives of the game," Brady said. "We had four receivers at points, at different points we had more [tight ends] with Develin and Mulligan on the field."
Tight end D.J. Williams, released by the Patriots last week, is en route to Foxborough and will re-sign with the team if he passes a physical, a source said, confirming an earlier report by The Boston Globe.
After Gronkowski's injury Sunday, the Patriots relied more heavily on Mulligan, who played a season-high 39 offensive snaps in a thrilling 27-26 victory over the Browns. They also used four wide receivers late in the game to help mount an improbable comeback.
Without Gronkowski, the team will have to rely on different combinations of skill players, Brady said.
"We're going to have to make do, whatever the combinations are," he said. "If Gronk's not out there, we've got to try to figure those out."
The Patriots are accustomed to playing without Gronkowski, as he was placed on injured reserve last postseason after re-breaking his forearm during the team's divisional-round victory over the Houston Texans. He also missed six games to start this season while recovering from multiple offseason surgeries.
Gronkowski made a dramatic impact in his return to the team, as the Patriots (10-3) scored the second-most points in the NFL during the six games he played before Sunday. The Patriots had the 22nd-best scoring offense in the league without Gronkowski.
Despite being without Gronkowski, Brady remains confident in his team, which has proved especially resilient this season.
"We're going to go down to Miami with confidence that we can win the game, confidence in our game plan, confidence in what we're doing and confidence in what we're asking all the players to do," he said of the Patriots' Week 15 matchup with the Dolphins (7-6), in which they can clinch a fifth straight AFC East title with a win.
Brady can also relate to Gronkowski's situation, as he suffered a similar injury in the 2008 season opener.
The veteran quarterback firmly believes the tight end will be better than ever in his return to the field.
"All injuries are different, and he's as tough a guy as there is," Brady said. "And what he's been through the last really two years since he hurt his ankle in the postseason, and then to come back from that and deal with his back and his arm and to deal with that all season last year and all offseason, he's a tough guy and a tough kid.
"If there's one thing he has, it's mental toughness. He'll be back, regardless of when it is, better than ever."