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January 15, 2013

Patriots in stride

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots have done just fine without Rob Gronkowski.

So far.

On Sunday, they’ll see whether that continues or if their valuable tight end’s absence will keep them from a second straight Super Bowl appearance.

“Certainly, Rob is a unique player and he has some skills that allow you to do special things with him,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Monday. “I don’t think it’s really fair to say you just plug somebody in and off you go.”

Michael Hoomanawanui filled in well enough after Gronkowski broke his left arm on the Patriots’ seventh offensive play of their 41-28 win over the Houston Texans in Sunday’s AFC divisional playoff game.

He’ll probably do it again in the conference championship game against the Ray Lewis-led defense of the Baltimore Ravens following Gronkowski’s season-ending surgery Monday.

“Michael did a great job with the things we asked him to do,” McDaniels said. “He certainly did a good job in protection and in the running game.”

Hoomanawanui didn’t catch any passes. But Gronkowski, who had 90 receptions last season and 55 in 11 games this season, had no catches in the Patriots’ two games against Houston this season. And they dominated both contests.

Gronkowski was sidelined for the 42-14 rout on Dec. 10, the third of five games he missed after breaking his left forearm.

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