Life without tight end Rob Gronkowski: Players seemed to be coming to grips with the fact they would be without Rob Gronkowski for the remainder of the season after he tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee Sunday. So the question becomes: "What next?" The Patriots have tight ends Matthew Mulligan and Michael Hoomanawanui on the roster, and could re-sign D.J. Williams, who was released last week. Hoomanawanui has been out since sustaining a knee injury Nov. 18 in Carolina, but appears closer to a return. Regardless, the Patriots won't be the same without Gronkowski, who has unique talents, so offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will likely have to recalibrate the attack.
Slow starts remain a problem: The Patriots have talked at length about getting off to better starts, but they haven't been able to do so. That should continue to be a point of emphasis as the Patriots are vying to clinch the AFC East championship. As defensive end Rob Ninkovich said after Sunday's comeback, "Not the way you want to win, but we'll take it."
Ridley eased back into the mix: Lead running back Stevan Ridley was charted on the field for 17 snaps (including penalties) in his return to action after he was a healthy scratch Dec. 1 in Houston after multiple fumbles. While Shane Vereen figures to continue to take the majority of snaps at the position, Ridley is now officially back in the rotation along with LeGarrette Blount and possibly Brandon Bolden (inactive Sunday versus Cleveland).
Defense giving up points: Since the bye weekend on Nov. 10, the Patriots have given up 24, 31, 31 and 26 points, with the defense showing vulnerability in multiple areas. Against Cleveland, the big play hurt them as they failed to create a turnover, which is their trademark. Next up are road games at Miami and Baltimore, and they need those turnovers to return to form.