Yes, the Patriots are 5-1 this season when Hernandez is inactive, but in order to win the Super Bowl, they are going to need all their weapons healthy.
That includes Welker, who caught another 10 passes against the Jaguars. Welker gets a lot of criticism for untimely drops, but if anyone knew the pain he’s battling with foot and ankle injuries just to be out there, his 110-catch (and counting) season would be even more worthy of adulation.
Between plays, Welker looks like a 65-year-old man straining to get out of bed. But between the whistles, he’s still one of the best. But can he keep it up for another four weeks to reach the Super Bowl? Can Mankins, who despite looking much better after sitting out three games is still battling leg/hip injuries?
Precision — The return of Rob Gronkowski is going to help the offense a lot. The 49ers and the Jaguars both used double teams against Welker and Hernandez to throw Brady off. Teams can’t do that when Gronkowski is on the field. They have to pick their poison if Hernandez and Welker are healthy.
Until that time, Brady and Brandon Lloyd need to get on the same page. On the interception on the throw to Lloyd, Brady didn’t make a great pass, but Lloyd failed to get his body between the ball and the defender.
On the incomplete pass to Lloyd in the end zone on third down in the first quarter, Brady expected Lloyd to cut off the angle of the cornerback by working back to the front pylon. Lloyd ran to the back pylon, which allowed the cornerback to undercut the route.
Brady had his own error on his first interception, when he underthrew Stevan Ridley down the left sideline. Ridley had 5 yards on linebacker Russell Allen, but Brady’s poor throw allowed him to get back into the play and disrupt the pass. If Brady led Ridley, he may have scored.
Combine some failed blitz pickups by the running backs, including one on which Bolden took out both Mankins and left tackle Nate Solder to cause a sack, and you have an offense that has lost its stride.
The good news is these are minor problems that can be cleaned up.
The offensive line can get back to playing like it did the first 10 weeks.
The health of Hernandez, Welker, and Mankins can be managed.
Gronkowski can return and open the coverages for everyone.
And the entire offense can get its timing back and get off to better starts, starting with Sunday’s game against the Dolphins.
“I remember on the sideline, [offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia] said, ‘It’s one guy here, one guy there,’ ” Mankins said. “And we had way too much of that where one guy wasn’t doing good enough. We need all 11 guys to do good.”
It is Overreaction Monday, and the Patriots’ offense will get some deserved heat.
But it also deserves some space to get things clicking again. This is a great offense, with a solid line and abundant playmakers.
It won’t take much to be that again.