The retirement of superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski this past offseason hit fans hard – and it hit the New England Patriots offense even harder.
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.
"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:
Chris Long with the New England Patriots
Chris Long with the New England Patriots
GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 11: Defensive end Chris Long #95 of the New England Patriots on the bench during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Patriots defeated the Cardinals 23-21.(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - SEPTEMBER 18: New England Patriots defensive end Chris Long prepares to tackle Miami Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake after a 2 yard gain during third quarter action at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., on Sept. 18, 2016. (Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 22: Chris Long #95 of the New England Patriots looks on prior to the game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium on September 22, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 18: Chris Long #95 of the New England Patriots warms up before the game against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on September 18, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 9, 2016: Defensive end Chris Long #95 of the New England Patriots rushes the quarterback during a game against the Cleveland Browns on October 9, 2016 at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. New England won 33-13. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 20: Chris Long #95 of the New England Patriots walks off the field under a rainbow after defeating the San Francisco 49ers 30-17 in their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on November 20, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 27: New England Patriots defensive end Chris Long (95) during the first quarter of the National Football League game between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets on November 27, 2016, at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. The New England Patriots defeated the New York Jets 22-17. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 04: Chris Long #95 of the New England Patriots reacts after sacking Jared Goff #16 of the Los Angeles Rams (not pictured) during the fourth quarter at Gillette Stadium on December 4, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 12: Rob Ninkovich #50 and Chris Long #95 of the New England Patriots react during the second half of the game against the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium on December 12, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 12: Chris Long #95 and Elandon Roberts #52 of the New England Patriots react after a safety during the first quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium on December 12, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 31: Chris Long of the New England Patriots answers questions from the media at the J.W. Marriott on January 31, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 05: Chris Long #95 of the New England Patriots speaks to father Howie Long before Super Bowl 51 against the Atlanta Falcons at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 05: Chris Long #95 of the New England Patriots reacts during the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Falcons during Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 05: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates with Chris Long #95 after the Patriots defeat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 during Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
New England Patriots Rob Ninkovich, left, and Chris Long, right, ride with teammates in a parade Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017, in Boston to celebrate the team's 34-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons in Sunday's NFL Super Bowl 51 football game in Houston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
"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."