The New England Patriots have done just fine without Rob Gronkowski.
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 try to 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 while blocking on an extra point late in a 59-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Nov. 18. He sat out the rest of Sunday's game after breaking his arm when he landed on it after catching a pass down the right sideline by Tom Brady that was ruled incomplete because Gronkowski didn't get both feet inbounds.
The Patriots were 7-3 before Gronkowski was injured then went 4-1 without him.
"We've played a bunch of games now, we've never really been fully healthy yet and obviously now won't be," Brady said Monday during his regular weekly appearance on WEEI radio. "But you know what? We've still got a very good team."
Ravens fine with underdog status against Patriots
The Ravens have another opportunity to embrace the underdog role, this time in the AFC championship game.
Playing at home — where they've won seven of nine this season — the Patriots have been installed as 9 1/2-point favorites Sunday to advance to the Super Bowl.
The Ravens have already defeated New England this season and are coming off a stunning upset on the road against top-seeded Denver. Yet, it appears they're still not getting any respect.
And the Ravens are just fine with it.
"It's just what everyone else thinks," defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said Monday. "In here, on our team, we believe in ourselves. Whatever anyone else thinks, that their thoughts. We'll just have to go back out there and prove people wrong again."
After eliminating the Broncos 38-35 in double-overtime Saturday, the Ravens (12-6) watched New England (13-4) defeat Houston on Sunday. Baltimore might have had an easier time against the Texans, but many of the Ravens longed for a rematch of last year's AFC title game, won by the Patriots 23-20.
"I think we personally kind of wanted to play the Patriots again," Ngata said. "If we go to the Super Bowl, it would be great to go through Foxborough."
The Ravens were also 91/2-point underdogs against Denver, which came in with an 11-game winning streak and as the odds-on favorite to reach the Super Bowl. Yet, Baltimore is still in the hunt and the Broncos are done for the season.
"It will probably be one of the greatest victories in Ravens history," linebacker Ray Lewis said afterward. "It's partly because of the way everything was stacked up against us coming in. … For us to come in here and win, nine- to 10-point underdogs, that's the beautiful part about sports. That's the thing that, if I'll probably miss anything about my career, it will be to listen to what people say you can't do, and then to go do it."
Wide receiver Torrey Smith echoed that sentiment Monday after someone asked him if he reads media reports before the game.
"They are irrelevant," he said. "None of you all thought we were going to be right here this week anyway."
ravens at patriots
ravens at patriots
AFC championship game
Sunday: 6:30 p.m.
TV: CBS, Channel 10