- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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The New England Patriots' top-ranked offense will be fine without Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski, who reinjured his arm Sunday against the Houston Texans and is out for the playoffs. New England got plenty of practice and was 4-1 when Gronkowski broke his arm the first time in the regular season. The Patriots also scored 41 points against Houston in the playoffs without Gronkowski for three quarters.
However, inside the red zone is where Gronkowski definitely will be missed.
Gronkowski is almost unstoppable in the red zone. His size, long wingspan and strong hands made him an ideal target for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to spot in the end zone. Gronkowski caught 38 touchdowns in three seasons, and a majority of his scores were inside the 20-yard line. He caught 11 touchdowns in 11 regular-season games in 2012 despite being in and out of the lineup.
The Patriots will be fine between the 20s. Aaron Hernandez can stretch the field at tight end. Wes Welker can get open over the middle and move the chains. And other Patriots like receiver Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch and tailbacks Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley will pick up the slack.
But the Patriots cannot afford to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns this deep in the playoffs. Outside of Gronkowski, no other Patriot caught more than six touchdown passes this season.