Rob Gronkowski will not play Sunday against the Bengals.
He didn't make the trip to Cincinnati with the Patriots.
Not Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots. Thus far, at least.
Mulligan, who either played at the University of Maine or the College of Hard Knocks, was pulled in from the labor pool at Home Depot and caught a one-yard TD pass from Tom Brady during last week's closer-than-it-should-have-been 30-23 victory at Atlanta.
The names of Brady's departed targets in the offseason are no longer the paramount concern with this team. Brady was nearly flawless Sunday night against Atlanta and was sexy cool when it was over:
The Patriots have made the adjustments. Danny Amendola is questionable but is with the team this week and all indications are that he will play. That news comes just in time. Both Dobson and Thompkins are listed as questionable Sunday. Running back Stevan Ridley is out this week.
Even with all those changes and injuries on offense, the biggest challenge facing the Patriots this entire season thus far will be compensating for the loss of Vince Wilfork, who was placed on season-ending IR. Cincinnati's running game, they've got this guy named BenJarvus Green-Ellis who almost never fumbles, will offer the makeshift/evolving Patriots' defensive front a real challenge.
A sizable chunk of replacing the sizable hole left by Wilfork's injured Achilles' will be Joe Vellano, an undrafted and unheralded free-agent from Maryland who made the team in training camp. Given the Patriots' track record in this area, he'll be a household name in New England by the second quarter Sunday.
The Patriots have held opponents to just 21 first downs on 59 third-down snaps and have kept opponents from converting on any of their six fourth-down tries.
The eventual return of Gronk is the most tantalizing when it comes to upside. He hasn't played for the Patriots since Jan. 13. So, in a best-case scenario he'll return in Week 6, exactly nine months to the day of his last appearance.
Nine months. Enough time to make a baby. Or, in the case of Gronk, possibly catch a football.
At 6-6, 265 pounds, Gronkowski is a mountain of Dunkin' Donuts pitchman. We've seen him shirtless enough to know he's chiseled in all the right places. He's spiked his way into the hearts and mind of Patriot Nation. The combination of a broken forearm [suffered against the Texans in the divisional round of the playoffs] and back surgery in the offseason can sideline the strongest of men.
We know isn't the most eloquent of athletes, nor has he mastered any foreign languages.
But Gronk's been able to charm his way through this extended absence. Even when reports surfaced this family and representation were at odds with the team about when he should come back, Gronk was able to put out the fire without even trying.
"Everything is great around here," he said this week. "We were on the same page from the very get-go, and still on the same page, and it's going good."
A smile, a laugh and we were all back in his giant-sized pocket.
It's "going good" for the Patriots this season, even if it doesn't look that way.
Given the offseason from Heaven and Hell endured by this team, New England's start is satisfying if not surprising. This season has demonstrated Brady's unappreciated ability to adapt and develop the talent around him and Belichick's well-earned reputation for find it.
4-0 remains 4-0, no matter how well the Patriots were blessed by the schedule gods this season.
It's still too soon to panic, at least until they lose a game.
Here are this week's rankings. Teams are listed with their records and last week's rankings in parenthesis.
Meet "Son of Butt Fumble."
1. Seahawks (4-0: 1) - Russell Wilson vs. Andrew Luck. Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin has caught passes from both, playing with Luck at Stanford. His preference, according to ESPN.com: "I'm on the record as saying Andrew Luck can be the greatest quarterback who ever played the game of football. I've seen him do some unbelievable things that I still can't believe a quarterback was able to do. I have tremendous respect for that guy."
2. Broncos (4-0; 2) - Point differential of plus-88 highest in NFL by nearly four touchdowns. Shades of 2007 Patriots developing in Denver.
3. Patriots (4-0; 3) - Tight end Zach "Butterfingers" Sudfeld got a hefty dose of the "Patriot Way" this week when he was unceremoniously cut following his inability to handle that on-sides kick late in Sunday's win over the Falcons. He still may end up with more playing time than Rob Gronkowski this season.
4. Saints (4-0; 5) - Sean Payton is the early front-runner for Former-Suspended Coach of the Year. Wonder what the bounty is on 5-0 start?
5. Chiefs [sorry if you're offended] (4-0; 6) - Has to be the NFL feel-good story of the year until the protests begin over their name and logo.
6. Colts (3-1; 11) - Jump from playing worst [Jacksonville] to first [Seattle] in terms of opponents.
7. Bengals (3-1; 9) - You think you had a bad week, the Bengals lost to the Browns. Offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth told the Cincinnati Enquirer that his team made "high school" plays and called it "an embarrassing day." Hope the Bengals didn't get it all those "high school" plays out of their system.
8. Lions (3-1; 14) - How many folks picked up Reggie Bush in their fantasy league this week? He amassed 139 yards and one touchdown on 18 carries last week against Chicago and added four catches for 34 yards.
9. Dolphins (3-1; 4) - Ryan Tannehill was the starting QB at Texas A&M before Johnny Manziel. Tannehill was more like Ryan Foosball Monday night. He turned the ball over four times [3 INTs, 1 fumble] and was sacked four times. The Dolphins are on pace to give up 72 sacks this season. which led guard Richie Incognito to tell the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "If we give up 72 sacks, everybody should be fired. The whole offensive line." Hope the resumes are ready.
10. Bears (3-1; 7) - Marc Trestman's run of perfection as an NFL coach concluded last week thanks in part to three interceptions by Jay Cutler. Cutler, meanwhile, could top himself this week against the Saints.
11. Ravens (2-2; 8) - Joe Flacco threw five interceptions against Buffalo last week as he was under siege all day. The Ravens responded by trading for Jacksonville OL Eugene Monroe, one of the few legitimate players on that team, and are reportedly shopping Bryant McKinnie.
12. Texans (2-2; 10) - Rank first in overall league defense, in terms of yards allowed. Not sure NBC had figured both the Texans and 49ers would be 2-2 when they scheduled this week's Sunday night match-up.
13. Browns (3-2; 30) - They trade Trent Richardson and lose QB Brian Hoyer to a season-ending injury. So what happens: they manage to win two games in less than a week. Brandon Weeden came off the bench and got the job done in Thursday 37-24 victory over Buffalo which left the Browns [at least for now] atop the AFC North.
14. Titans (3-1; 17) - Will meet the undefeated Chiefs Sunday [sorry if you're offended] in a showdown of the league's most pleasantly surprising teams.
15. 49ers (2-2; 12) - The player formerly known as Donte Whitner is now officially "Donte Hitner."
At least he didn't change the "n" to an "l."
It's official...The W is being removed from my last name from Whitner to Hitner...GM— DonteHitner (@DonteWhitner) October 2, 2013
The name change is official, BTW. Hitner put in the paperwork this week. "So from here on out until I retire, my name will be Donte Hitner, without the W," he said on a confernence call this week.
16. Cowboys (2-2; 13) - Linebacker Ernie Sims this week told the Dallas Morning News he was "sick of hearing about Peyton Manning." "Get used to it," said the rest of the NFL.
17. Chargers (2-2; 18) - This weeks' against the Raiders starts at 11:35 p.m. Eastern [8:35 local time] due to the fact that whomever made the NFL schedule never thought the A's would make the American League playoffs.
18. Falcons (1-3; 15) - What better way to recover from a tough Sunday night loss at home against New England than to draw a Monday night match-up at home against the Jets?
19. Packers (1-2; 16) - Bye week came at a great time.
20. Eagles (1-3; 19) - Chip Kelly's name came up [along with that of everyone else who has ever coached a football game] as a potential candidate to replace Lane Kiffin at USC. Might want to keep Pat Hayden on speed dial, coach.
21. Rams (1-2; 20) - Face Jacksonville this week. The rest of the league should be so lucky.
22. Steelers (0-4; 21) - Terry Bradshaw never made it to 0-4, although he did lose the first three games of his rookie season in 1970.
23. Redskins [apologies if you're offended] (1-3; 22) - President Obama told the Associated Press Saturday he would "think about changing" the team's name if he owned it because names like that offend "a sizable group of people."
Coming next week: Dan Snyder's IRS audit.
[BTW, our snarky Native American team name disclaimers have been appearing since Week 1. We are so ahead of the curve here. Glad Mr. President is reading our column. Already knew he was checking our email.]
24. Vikings (1-3; 24) - Bye week. Matt Cassel got Minnesota off the schneid in London last week against Pittsburgh. He replaced the injured Christian Ponder and went 16-for-25 for 248 yards and 2 TDs. Been there, seen that.
25. Jets (2-2; 25) - Mark Sanchez wasn't good enough for this team.
26. Bills (2-3; 29) - QB EJ Manuel took a helmet to the knee in Thursday night's loss and left the game. He can take his time getting healthy.
27. Cardinals (2-2; 26) - Face Panthers this week. These teams deserve each other.
28. Panthers (1-2; 26) - Ranked 32nd in passing, and that's with Cam Newton.
29. Raiders (1-3; 28) - If the A's make the ALCS, the Raiders may be playing their games on Tuesday morning.
30. Giants (0-4; 23) - President Obama told the Associated Press Saturday he would "think about changing" the team's name because they are anything but giant this season.
31. Bucs (0-4; 31) - Josh Freeman was given his release, the rest of the team is being punished by having to stick around.
32. Jaguars (0-4; 32) - Tim Tebow, save us.
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