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Patriots lose game to Broncos, maybe more with Rob Gronkowski injury


DENVER — It was a devastating night for the New England Patriots, first on the scoreboard and then with what could be a serious right knee injury for tight end Rob Gronkowski.

The team’s 30-24 overtime loss to the Denver Broncos drops New England to 10-1, but the bigger storyline is that Gronkowski was carted off with 2 minutes, 49 seconds remaining in the game after Broncos safety Darian Stewart, who was diving for a tackle, made contact with Gronkowski’s right leg. Gronkowski’s leg whipped back as it made contact with Stewart.

Potentially losing Gronkowski, a transcendent player at the position, would change everything for the Patriots.

So while the Patriots’ hopes for a perfect season are dashed, the more important detail is what the possible loss of Gronkowski means for their larger goal of repeating as Super Bowl champions. The Patriots have been buying time with other injured players, such as receivers Julian Edelman (foot) and Danny Amendola (knee), and even linebacker Jamie Collins (who has missed the past four games with an illness). But will there be enough time with Gronkowski?

The complexion of the Patriots’ season, and the AFC on the whole, has possibly changed dramatically.

However, there was some hope. According to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, more testing is likely, but one source texted this on Gronk’s leg injury: “Doesn’t appear to be serious.”

What it means: It’s one thing to lose a game. It’s another thing altogether to possibly lose one of the most important players on the team. The Patriots are still in the No. 1 position in the AFC from a playoff perspective, but the margin for error just got thinner, and their ranks possibly further depleted.

Harper’s muff a big play: One of the turning points in the game came early in the fourth quarter when undrafted rookie receiver Chris Harper muffed a punt and the Broncos recovered. The Patriots were leading 21-7 at the time and were in position to take control. Instead, the Broncos turned it into a touchdown, which ultimately set up the thrilling finish into overtime. The Patriots normally would have Julian Edelman (foot) and Danny Amendola (knee) as options, but both were out with injuries.

One reason to be concerned: Where would the team go from here without Gronkowski if the injury turns out to be serious? Everything else is secondary at this point. The team has experience playing without him in 2012 (forearm) and 2013 (ACL), but an already banged-up offense in 2015 without its top threat is looking at the possibility of having to reinvent itself.

Ouch: Starting linebacker Dont’a Hightower left the game late in the second quarter with a knee injury and did not return. He had left for the locker room at the two-minute warning for further evaluation, then returned to the sideline in the second half to watch the remainder of the game.

Gronkowski and offensive pass interference: Gronkowski has been called for six offensive pass interference penalties this season (including declined and offsetting) after being called for just two last season. A big one came Sunday night in the fourth quarter, negating a first down as the Patriots led 21-17. Are officials applying a different standard to Gronkowski? It might not matter at this point if Gronkowski is lost for an extended period, but the fourth-quarter call appeared to be questionable.

Fantasy watch: Tight end Scott Chandler had a productive night (five catches, 58 yards, TD), and will be relied upon more if Gronkowski is out. … The Patriots split their running back snaps this way: James White (31), LeGarrette Blount (25) and Brandon Bolden (16). Bolden’s 63-yard catch-and-run touchdown early in the fourth quarter was a big play for the offense.

Stats of note: Gronkowski moved past Shannon Sharpe into third place on the all-time list for touchdown catches by a tight end, with 63. Tony Gonzalez (110) and Antonio Gates (101) top the list. … The Patriots had been 12-0 in games played in snow under Bill Belichick (2000-present), but drop to 12-1 in those games after Sunday night’s loss.

What’s next: The Patriots host the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, Dec. 6, with a 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff. The Eagles are coming off two blowout losses in a span of five days, to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (45-17) and then the Detroit Lions (45-14).



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