No, it'll be exactly what it has been all season, an amorphous concept designed to take advantage of opponents' weaknesses and rely upon the team's strength, whatever and whomever that may be. So according to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, the guy who fills Gronkowski's place in the lineup can't just be good, he has to be great.
"I would say our offense is pretty much our offense, so the other guys that are going to be in there filling that role and playing tight end for us have to do a great job," Brady said. "We always try to find ways to use a guy’s skill set, and we run it decent at times, we throw it decent at times. I mean, it’s disappointing to lose anybody, but we’ve faced that before this year and at different times, so I’d say at least we’re adjusted to it a little bit. We still have confidence that we can go out and win games."
The Patriots won five of six games without their all-pro tight end this season. The candidates to immediately fill in for him are veteran tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (who practiced for the first time Wednesday since suffering a knee injury in Week 11), Matthew Mulligan, James Develin, and D.J. Williams.
Brady knows Hoomanawanui and Mulligan, the natural tight ends who will likely carry the bulk of the load for the team, do not have the same skills as Gronkowski.
"You have to try to figure out what we’re going to do to still get the level of production that’s good enough to win," he said.
He added that he was confident in those two.
"They’ve been able to contribute [in] the role that they’ve been in that we’ve asked them to do, so I think now the role’s going to be more," Brady said. "You’re going to play more, because Gronk’s not in there, so someone’s got to be in there. That will fall on the backs, that will fall on the tight ends, that will fall on the receivers, anyone who’s got an opportunity to produce while they’re out on the field. If you’re an eligible receiver, then you’ve got to do something with it, so we either run it better or throw it better or catch it better or run with it after the catch. It’s not going to be an excuse for us, I know that."
So the players change, but the expectations don't.