FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Patriots rolled into another AFC championship game Sunday, defeating the Houston Texans 41-28.
It's what they may have lost, however, that will be a concern going forward.
Star tight end Rob Gronkowski reportedly re-broke his left forearm while attempting to make a first-down catch in the opening quarter. He immediately went to the bench where he was in obvious pain as he was surrounded by team medical staff. He was then walked to the locker room and never returned to the game.
Pro Football Talk reported during the game that Gronkowski is out for the rest of the postseason. Gronkowski, one of the Patriots' top weapons, missed six games this season due to a broken left forearm. It was surgically repaired and he returned to action in Week 17 of the regular season.
Sunday he wore a heavy white brace, which apparently didn't help when he fell to the ground trying to corral a Tom Brady pass along the Patriots' sideline.
The injury to Gronkowski brought memories of last year's playoffs where Gronkowski battled a deeply sprained ankle that limited his mobility in a Super Bowl loss to the Giants. With unusual mobility and athletic ability for a 6-foot-6, 235-pound frame, Gronkowski is considered one of the toughest match-ups in the NFL and one of Brady's favorite targets. He had 11 touchdown receptions in his 11 games this season.
Meanwhile, rookie defensive lineman Chandler Jones left the game due to an ankle injury and did not return. Running back Danny Woodhead was also banged up in the first quarter. New England entered the AFC divisional round playoff game in near-perfect health.
However, New England's offense didn't miss Gronkowski too much against the Texans, racking up 457 yards in total offense. Brady threw three touchdown passes and improved to 17-6 in the playoffs, the most postseason wins by any starting quarterback in NFL history. Two of Brady's scores went to running back Shane Vereen, who also added a rushing touchdown.
Tight end Aaron Hernandez, who will be a greater focus with Gronkowski out, had six catches for 85 yards. Wide receiver Wes Welker had eight catches for 131 yards.
The Texans, who back in December were 11-1 and considered a contender in the AFC until they were blown out in a Monday night football game here, ended their season with a thud. Houston lost four of its final six games overall. While the Texans were able to close a one-time 38-13 deficit to 38-28 in the fourth, the game really was never in doubt.
New England continued its machine-like march through the NFL playoffs. The Patriots are looking to make their sixth Super Bowl in a dozen years under the quarterback-coach combo of Brady and Bill Belichick. They won three championships, although none since winning it all following the 2004 season.
The Baltimore Ravens come to Gillette Stadium next Sunday in a rematch of last year's dramatic AFC title game. New England held on to win 23-20, but only after Baltimore wide receiver Lee Evans couldn't hang on to a potential game-winning, last-minute touchdown throw and kicker Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal to tie it.
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