Unlike Rob Gronkowski being carted off in '13, this time may not be as bad

Gronkowski's injury does not appear to be serious (0:43)

Sal Paolantonio reports the latest on Rob Gronkowski's right knee injury that he sustained during the Patriots' loss to the Broncos. (0:43)

DENVER -- When the cart came out for tight end Rob Gronkowski late Sunday night, it was a painful déjà vu for New England Patriots followers.

Everyone remembers Dec. 8, 2013, and how Gronkowski was carted off that day in a victory over the Cleveland Browns. A hush came over the crowd; they knew the result of the game was secondary to what had unfolded with Gronkowski (tests later revealed a torn ACL).

With two minutes, 49 seconds remaining in regulation of Sunday night’s 30-24 road loss to the Denver Broncos, fans were reliving that pain all over again.

Only this time, it’s possible that the ultimate diagnosis isn’t as damaging as 2013.

That news, with a source telling ESPN’s Adam Schefter that pending further tests the injury “doesn’t appear to be serious,” was most surprising based on how much pain Gronkowski appeared to be in as he squirmed on the field with the medical staff checking his right knee.

Either way, the injury clearly affected players, with quarterback Tom Brady passionately speaking about the physical toll football takes on players.

“It is so hard to see these guys get hurt this way,” he said. “I always have so much respect for guys that play this game because you risk a lot to play. I think a lot of times that gets overlooked because you sacrifice a lot and guys sacrifice their bodies. It is hard to see your friends get taken down like that. It is part of this sport and we understand that, but I also have a lot of respect for guys that take the field.”

Brady’s remarks summed up the overall mood around the team. Players noticed that Gronkowski was in the locker room with them after the game, walking without the aid of crutches and packing his bag before walking to the team buses. Special teams captain Matthew Slater said, “That’s obviously a good sign; better than the alternative. We’ll see what comes of it.”

Call it cautious optimism.

Thinking back to Dec. 8, 2013, there wasn’t any of it on that day. Knowing Gronkowski was out for the year with the torn ACL was a crushing blow to the team's Super Bowl hopes, but late Sunday night, there were more glimmers of hope, an initial feeling that perhaps Gronkowski’s injury fell into a similar category as receiver Julian Edelman in that the team might be able to buy some time in hopes he returns before the final game is played.

“It’s hard to really put it into words. He’s been through a lot. He means a lot to this football team. I love him as a teammate,” Slater said. “We’re just praying for the best and hoping that everything’s OK.”

It just might be.

Surprisingly so, because it sure looked like 2013 all over again.