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Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui will be critical.
The Patriots may be without one member of the two-headed tight end monster, but the two-tight end set cannot be abandoned.
It is from this base formation that New England has been able to effectively run the ball to keep defenses honest. This season, the Patriots ranked seventh in the NFL with 2,184 rushing yards and first with 25 rushing touchdowns (per ESPN.com).
That success on the ground would be stifled if the three-wide receiver set was brought back into the fold. Wideouts simply don't have the size or blocking ability of tight ends. In turn, the rushing attack would lose its disguise and defenses would have fewer blocks to break before teeing off on quarterback Tom Brady.
Thanks largely to New England's depth behind Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, operating out of 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends) remains the offense's strong suit.
Backup tight ends Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui have made contributions when called upon this season. Yet, having combined for only 194 yards on nine grabs this year, what Fells and Hoomanawanui do best isn't noticeable on the stat sheet.
With a tight end hugging the edge of the offensive line, the defense is forced to commit a linebacker. This manipulation of the defense's responsibilities often leaves the flex tight end (Hernandez) either covered by another linebacker or a defensive back.
One significant mismatch and suddenly the dangerous Hernandez is freed up for a respectable gain.
All in all, the balanced two-tight end set is New England's bread and butter. It's too late to turn away from what has worked so well to this point.