The Patriots, behind 42-year-old quarterback Tom Brady, are 6-0 this season, but that doesn't mean the team's play has been as flawless as its record. Several weapons on New England's offense have battled injuries, including wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, who sat out Week 6, and 2019 first-round draft pick N'Keal Harry, who has yet to play this season.
The loss of a tight end as skilled as Gronkowski obviously leaves some enormous shoes that have yet to be filled. According to former Patriots defensive end Chris Long, however, there's more that's plaguing the defending champions.
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"They've got their work cut out for them because they lost [fullback James] Develin to IR and that's as big a deal as Gronk," Long, who won Super Bowl LI alongside both players in New England, told AOL Sports on behalf of Crown Royal.
The retired defensive end also noted losses on New England's offensive line, including tackle Isaiah Wynn and center David Andrews, as issues that the team should address before the trade deadline. Either Wynn or Develin could return from the injured reserve list this season, but not both, as young wide receiver Harry has returned to practice and teams can only activate two players off IR in a given season.
Even with a perceived lack of weapons and protection surrounding Brady, Long believes his former team should still be in the conversation for making a run at Super Bowl LIV this coming February.
"They are still a team that's going to figure it out by November and December because that's what they do," Long said, calling the Patriots "amazingly adaptive" amid all the holes in the 2019 roster.
"They really consider September and October like a preseason, where they figure out who they are as a team, and then in November and December, they make a run."
See Long during his championship season in New England:
One saving grace for the Patriots this season has been the team's spectacular defense and special teams, which have scored nearly as much as New England's opponents so far in 2019. Veteran safety Devin McCourty leads the team in interceptions with four, while linebackers Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy have each forced two fumbles. Collins's 4.5 sacks on the season also lead the team.
"This team has morphed through their six Super Bowls from being defensive teams to being offensive teams and now back to being a bit of a defensive team," Long said. "But I wouldn't count them out offensively, ever."