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Rob Gronkowski carted off field after injuring knee

The New England Patriots' recent string of bad injury luck just took a turn for the unthinkable.

All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski was carted off the field with a right knee injury late in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss to the Denver Broncos.

Gronkowski immediately pounded the turf, writhing in obvious pain. The Patriots declared him out for the game shortly thereafter.

The injury is to the same knee that was reconstructed in January of 2014.

The Patriots might have dodged a worst-case scenario, however. NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported Monday morning that the belief is the tight end suffered no structural damage in his knee. Further tests are slated for Monday, but his time out should be minimal.

"All our fingers are crossed," Tom Brady told reporters after the game.

Earlier in the game, Gronkowski had bypassed Shannon Sharpe on the career touchdown lists for tight ends, which means the 26-year-old has more touchdowns than any tight end currently in the Hall of Fame.

The Patriots lost elusive satellite back Dion Lewis in Week 9, playmaking receiver Julian Edelman in Week 10 and saw Edelman's replacement, Danny Amendola, leave with a knee injury in Week 11. Even as attrition began taking its toll on the AFC's best team, Patriots fans could rest assured that their team remained a Super Bowl favorite as long as Brady and Gronkowski escaped the wrath of the football gods.

Gronkowski's importance cannot be overstated. He has been the NFL's most valuable non-quarterback since entering the league in 2010, anchoring New England's run game and aerial attack.

The Patriots have averaged over 32 points through Gronkowski's 76 games, the highest mark for any player in NFL history.

With Gronkowski sidelined by arm and knee injuries, the Patriots lost to the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI, were upset by the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game and fell to the Broncos in January of 2014.

Behind Brady's MVP-caliber play and a talented young defense, Bill Belichick's squad has built an AFC East lead strong enough to last versus a remaining schedule comprised of the Eagles, Texans, Titans, Jets and Dolphins.

If Gronkowski returns -- along with Edelman and Amendola -- by the beginning of January, the Patriots are primed for another Super Bowl run.

If further resting reveals a more serious Gronkowski injury, the AFC is up for grabs.

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