When Julian Edelman left Sunday's game at the end of the first quarter injured, the Patriots lost their team leader in targets and receptions. He was also the player with whom quarterback Tom Brady has had the longest rapport, joining the team as a seventh-round draft pick in 2009, one year before Rob Gronkowski was selected in the second round.
What made Edelman's injury hurt the Patriots offense even more -- and what will continue to make his loss sting as he recovers from foot surgery -- is that they had already lost their No. 3 most-targeted receiver Dion Lewis.
Combined, through nine games, Lewis and Edelman's 97 catches made up 39 percent of the team's total receptions. Their 1,337 yards from scrimmage made up just over a third (34 percent) of the team's total yardage.
They had roles in the Patriots offense, and a chemistry with Brady, that can't be replaced one-for-one. Both Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels explained on Monday what it will be like moving on without them for the foreseeable future.
"That will definitely be challenging," Belichick said. "Aside from all the X’s and O’s and all that, just the amount of timing that those players have with each other, with the quarterback, with Josh the offensive coordinator, and being able to have experience in doing a lot of those things, that’s really hard to replace. I mean, you just can’t do it.
"They’ve been out there taking a lot of snaps, a lot of reps and getting that timing and that execution right, and the other person just hasn’t been able to do it. That’s an element of it that we’re going to have to try to obviously work on."
When it comes to Edelman's role in particular, he was unique in the Patriots offense. He worked over the middle as a slot receiver at times. At others, he was on the outside and using his quickness off the line of scrimmage to create separation. However he was used, what he did with the ball in his hands after he caught it was rare.
Patriots wideout Danny Amendola will likely help make up for Edelman's loss, but those two aren't replicas of one another. Amendola will continue to do what he does well, Brandon LaFell will continue to do what he does well, and Aaron Dobson, Keshawn Martin (when healthy) and James White will do the same.
McDaniels made it clear during a conference call with reporters that no one will slide into Edelman's job in order to allow the offense to continue to hum along as if nothing happened.
"I think it's important to understand that there's nobody that's going to go in and just take Julian's place, including Danny," McDaniels said. "Danny's role is going to be filled with things we feel good about Danny doing, and then there might be some other people who are going to need to do some things that maybe we haven't asked a whole lot of them as well.
"I think that all our players, Danny included, would understand and respect the opportunity to go in there and maybe carry and handle a little extra burden, but any time that you incur an injury to a player as versatile as Julian or Dion [Lewis], it's never going to be one person's responsibility to go in there and make up for that production.
"It's our responsibility to try to take all the players that we have and move the ball on a consistent basis, take care of the ball and protect it and score points. So whatever formula we think is the best to do that, we're going to try to do that from one week to the next. Danny certainly will play a role in that, but we've got a lot of other guys that are going to play a role in doing that as well."