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. Hoomanawanui will probably do it again in the conference title game against the Ray Lewis-led defense of the Baltimore Ravens after 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 year, had no catches in the Patriots’ two games against Houston. And New England dominated both.
Gronkowski was sidelined for the 42-14 rout 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 re-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.
He had surgery Monday, said a person with knowledge of the operation, speaking on condition of anonymity because the team has not announced it.
The Patriots were 7-3 before Gronkowski was injured, then went 4-1 without him. He returned for the regular-season finale, a 28-0 win over the Miami Dolphins in which he caught a touchdown pass. But he played only 25 of the Patriots’ 80 offensive snaps.
“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.”
The Patriots also played without running back Danny Woodhead after he hurt his thumb on their first offensive play. Shane Vereen stepped in and scored three touchdowns — two on receptions and one on a run.
“That’s a huge credit to our coaching staff and Tom as well, but that’s what’s expected of us,” said Vereen, who had 124 total yards — 41 on seven rushes and 83 on five receptions. “When someone goes down, you’re expected to step in and do your job.”
Woodhead returned to the sideline but never got back in the game, although coach Bill Belichick said Monday he could have played.
Woodhead has been effective in a limited role. During the regular season, he had 301 yards and four touchdowns on 76 carries and 446 yards and three TDs on 40 receptions.
But Gronkowski is the Patriots’ most important offensive player after Brady. He was hampered by a high left ankle sprain in last year’s Super Bowl and made just two catches in the Patriots’ 21-17 loss to the New York Giants.
But he rarely leaves the field when healthy. He participated in 92 percent of the offensive snaps in the first 10 games this season. He played all 83 in a 31-30 loss to Baltimore in the third game and all 97 in a 31-21 win over the Denver Broncos in the fifth game.
On Sunday, Gronkowski played just seven snaps, then went to the bench with a look of pain on his face. He soon went to the locker room with team physician Dr. Thomas Gill. After the game, Belichick said he wasn’t sure whether Gronkowski had broken his arm and that the player had medical clearance to play.
He declined to elaborate in a conference call Monday. Asked whether Gronkowski was “100 percent” for Sunday’s game, Belichick said, “I covered that yesterday. He was cleared medically. I don’t have anything to add to it.”
The offensive staff will get a new member when Brian Daboll is added as an assistant. Belichick said Daboll, the offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs under fired coach Romeo Crennel, would join the staff “going forward, similar to what (McDaniels) did last year but without any specific responsibility.”