The mood went from elated to deflated in the time it would've taken Tom Brady to lead another touchdown drive. On a day when just about everything went right and the Patriots hammered the upstart Colts, 59-24, news came shortly after the final whistle that tight end Rob Gronkowski had broken his arm.
Speculation turned to reality a short time later and the expectations are that Gronk will miss 4 to 6 weeks. That would put his return at Week 16-17, just in time for the postseason. While there's no replacing Gronkowski, the Patriots are well positioned to deal with the loss. Aaron Hernandez is expected to return, perhaps as soon as this Thursday, and the team recently activated Visanthe Shiancoe, another capable pass-catcher. There's also Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker and the ever-improving Julian Edelman, and there's always Deion Branch, who was released late last week.
But before looking ahead, it's worth revisiting just how Gronkowski was hurt. Because people are going to be talking about it in the larger context of coach Bill Belichick's predilection for running up the score.
Gronk was injured while on the extra-point team, as kicker Stephen Gostkowski was attempting to convert point No. 59. Put another way: it was late in the fourth quarter, New England was up by 34 points and Gronkowski had no business being on the field.
But this isn't new. Belichick has always had starters on special teams -- Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison and Eugene Wilson are a few blasts from the pasts who served in similar roles. It's nothing new, and it's not something people either a) notice or b) complain about until a player is injured.
As for running up the score, well, get over it. First, that wasn't the case. Second, this isn't middle school, high school or even college where extreme differences in talent levels might make it prudent for the better team to take things easy as the score gets out of hand. But this is the NFL where grown men earn pretty good livings because they're the best players in the world. Sometimes you get beat soundly. It happens.
Brady, meanwhile, talked about Gronk's injury during his weekly appearance on WEEI.
"I knew he had gotten injured, but I obviously didn't know the extent," Brady said on Monday (via ESPNBoston.com). "But he's such a great player, it sucks that he gets hurt, but it's part of this game. He's got to do his best to get back as soon as possible, and we've got to go out there and win some games without him. …
"He does a lot for us, but there's a reason why you have other guys on the roster too," Brady continued. "Visanthe and Daniel Fells and Aaron Hernandez and Hooman [Michael Hoomanawanui], everyone's got to get in there and start trying to make up for having Gronk out. That's just part of it, and you've got to find ways to adjust, and no one really cares. No one cares what's going on with us. We've got to go out there and still go out there and win."
And that's the thing. As Lou Holtz once said, "Don't tell people your problems. Half of them don't care and the other half are glad you got them."
Despite the loss, the Pats will be fine.