Tom Brady, Patriots Offense, Soar Despite Losing Gronkowski for the Season
Gronkowski, the all-world tight end, re-injured his left arm when he landed hard after leaping to make a catch in the first quarter and never returned.
Gronk originally broke the arm in the Patriots' Week 11 win over the Colts, but returned in Week 17 after a quick recovery.
Despite Gronkowski's absence, Brady and Co. scored almost at will against the Texans' vaunted defense, charging to a 25-point lead early in the fourth quarter after New England scored 21 unanswered points.
Brady, it seems, was undaunted.
He simply spread the ball around to five different receivers, most notably Wes Welker, throwing for 344 yards and three touchdowns while completing 25-of-40 passes.
It didn't hurt that the Patriots' revived running game, which came into the divisional matchup ranked seventh in the league, came up big.
Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen ran for 82 and 41 yards respectively, each scoring a touchdown, against a Texans team that ranked seventh in rushing defense.
Gronkowski, who despite his shortened season led the pats with 11 touchdown catches this year, will miss the rest of the postseason, according to USA Today.
In his absence, Brady simply went to Welker, one of the league's most reliable receivers, again and again and again.
Welker caught 11 passes for 131 yards, a 16.4 clip, catching many of Brady's screens and checkdown passes.
Brady, beyond the numbers, was masterful Sunday, regularly evading a Texans pass rush that got to the pocket more often but only sacked him once.
On paper, the Texans were more suited to shut down the Patriots' high-flying air attack. But next week's opponent, the Baltimore Ravens, are peaking at just the right time, motivated by the inspired play of Ray Lewis, who will retire at the end of the season.
The Ravens will visit Foxborough next Sunday in a rematch of last year's AFC Championship Game, won by the Patriots 23-20. New England is an early favorite, giving 9-and-1/2 points.
Lou Rom covers the NFL and whatever else gets under his skin for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @louromlive.
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