The New England Patriots' fears regarding star tight end Rob Gronkowski's right knee have been confirmed.
An MRI on Monday revealed Gronkowski suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament after a hit from Cleveland Browns safety T.J Ward on Sunday, a person with knowledge of the situation told USA Today Sports.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the Patriots don't discuss injuries publicly.
His season officially over, Gronkowski now faces another lengthy rehab. He missed time this past offseason and the first six games of 2013 following back and forearm surgeries.
The Patriots came from behind to beat the Browns 27-26, but the impact of Gronkowski's absence against far better foes come January cannot be underestimated.
"Huge loss. (He's their) port in the storm," an executive in personnel for another AFC team told USA TODAY Sports, speaking on condition of anonymity for competitive reasons. "Key to the offense. Big-time matchup problem for defenses."
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Yes, quarterback Tom Brady guided New England to a 5-1 start while Gronk worked his way back from forearm and back surgeries. And as long as Brady is healthy and coach Bill Belichick is on the sideline, the Patriots are a dangerous team, period.
"I think we all feel sorry for Rob," Brady said after the game, "but I don't think anyone feels sorry for the Patriots."
Still, it's not the same challenge for opposing coordinators to scheme against New England when Gronkowski's 6-6, 265-pound frame isn't creating mismatches in the middle of the field and in the red zone.
Danny Amendola, who caught a 1-yard touchdown pass for the win with 31 seconds to go against Cleveland, figures to factor more heavily going forward after overcoming his own injury issues. And Brady also may rely on some less-heralded players, as he did before Gronk's return.
"(Brady) will probably ask more of young receivers," another NFL executive said. "(Running back Shane) Vereen as his (new Danny) Woodhead."
There wasn't much Gronkowski, 24, could have done to avoid the direct shot to the knee from Ward. But moving forward, it's only natural for the Patriots to begin questioning how much they can rely on him.
Surgery to repair the ligaments will be at least the sixth operation for Gronkowski since he signed an eight-year, $55.24 million contract in June 2012.
He entered Sunday with 560 yards and four touchdowns on 37 catches in just six games — a span in which the Patriots were averaging 32.8 points a game after averaging 20.8 a game without him.
To replace him on the roster, the Patriots plan to re-sign D.J. Williams.
Follow Tom Pelissero on Twitter @TomPelissero
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