Pats’ Gronkowski out for season after blow to knee; Maine native Mulligan may have expanded role

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) lies on he ground after getting injured by a Cleveland Browns player during the third quarter at Gillette Stadium.
Stew Milne | USA Today Sports
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) lies on he ground after getting injured by a Cleveland Browns player during the third quarter at Gillette Stadium.
Posted Dec. 09, 2013, at 11:56 a.m.
Last modified Dec. 09, 2013, at 4:15 p.m.

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is out for the season with torn ligaments in his right knee.

He was carted off the field with a right knee injury in the third quarter Sunday and tests Monday confirmed the team’s initial diagnosis of a torn ACL and MCL.

The Patriots rallied without Gronkowski for a 27-26 win.

The loss of Gronkowski could mean an expanded role for tight end Matthew Mulligan, an Enfield, Maine, native and former University of Maine standout, who has been used primarily as a blocking tight end for the Pats.

“When you have a good player like [Gronkowski], and you know all the struggles that he has gone through already, to have something like that, I think it is catastrophic and everybody feels it,” said Mulligan, who is 28.

“It is what it is, but as far as [the game goes], we knew we had a job to do. You have to be able to weather different things that happen in a game. Whether it be injuries or whatever it may be in a game, that’s why you continue to play for 60 minutes and I think as a team we did a great job,” added the 6-foot-4, 267-pound Mulligan.

Mulligan ended up playing a season-high 39 offensive snaps on Sunday, including a 15-yard pass reception highlighted by his attempt to jump over a Cleveland defensive back.

Michael Hoomanawanui is the other tight on the Patriots roster, but he missed his third straight game on Sunday. Fullback James Develin has also filled in at tight end.

The Boston Globe has reported that the Patriots will also likely re-sign tight end D.J. Williams, who they released last week.

Pats quarterback Tom Brady admitted Monday the team’s plan of attack is about to change without Gronkowski, a difference-making tight end.

“You just have to find a different formula. That’s the important part,” Brady said during his weekly interview on WEEI. “Gronk provides a certain margin of error because of how talented a player he is. The other guys play different roles for us. Those roles are going to have to just shift, kind of what we did on the last two drives of the game. We ended up going four wide receivers at points. … We’re going to go down to Miami with confidence that we’re going to win the game, I know that — confidence in our game plan, confidence in what we’re doing and what we’re asking all the players to do. It may be different than what the game plan was with Gronk in there, but we’re just going to have to try to figure it out.”

The Patriots voiced concern for Gronkowski immediately after Sunday’s game.

“To me, it’s tough for [Gronkowski]. Of course, as a team, we want him to play. But the first thing I thought was everything he went through to get back out here and how hard he’s worked,” defensive back Devin McCourty said. “As a team, we’ll do what we have to do. But as a teammate, as a friend and as a player, you just hate to see that for him. A guy that’s battled back through his arm and his back and been very productive for us this year, it stinks to see him get carted off the field like that.”

With the Patriots trailing 12-0 midway through the third quarter, Gronkowski was blasted on his knee by Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward, a notorious big hitter who hit the Patriots’ All-Pro tight end as he was gathering a pass from Brady.

“[Ward] was tackling him low and just trying to get him on the ground,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said of the play. “I don’t think there was anything to that. Clearly it looked like Gronkowski was able to take a few steps on it after he caught it and was running. And TJ just went low to try to get him on the ground. Of course, you hate to see any player ever injured. Gronkowski is a great player and I don’t know the severity of the injury, but I hope he is back. You know, you hate to see that happen.”

Gronkowski’s right leg wasn’t planted when Ward made the hit, but he went from the playing surface to the motorized cart without putting any weight on his right side. Ward was one of several players from both teams to meet Gronkowski on the cart to shake his hand before he left the field.

Ward said “injury is never my intention.”

Gronkowski, 24, missed the first six games of the season recovering from multiple forearm surgeries. The fourth-year pro also had back surgery in the offseason.

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