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Pats hope to continue success without Gronkowski

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Pats hope to continue success without Gronkowski

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) 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.

He'll probably do it again in the conference championship game against the Ray Lewis-led defense of the Baltimore Ravens following 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 season, had no catches in the Patriots' two games against Houston this season. And they dominated both contests.

Gronkowski was sidelined for the 42-14 rout on 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 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 on Monday, a person with knowledge of the operation said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the team has not announced the surgery.

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 in that game.

``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 while running with the ball 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 sidelines but never got back in the game, although coach Bill Belichick said Monday he could have played.

``Danny was examined. He was back on the sideline for the remainder of the game,'' Belichick said. ``Had we needed to use him, he would have been available to go back in there. Now that we're into a new week, we'll readdress the whole situation, try to get a good feel for what he would and wouldn't be able to do and how functional he would be doing it.''

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 touchdowns 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 snaps 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, according to profootballfocus.com.

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 received medical clearance to play.

He declined to elaborate in a conference call Monday.

Asked if Gronkowski was ``100 percent'' for the 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 Josh did last year but without any specific responsibility.''

McDaniels joined the Patriots as an offensive assistant before their first playoff game last year after serving as offensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams. McDaniels then officially took over as New England offensive coordinator when his predecessor, Bill O'Brien, became coach at Penn State.

Daboll was a defensive assistant with the Patriots from 2000-2001 and wide receivers coach from 2002-2006. He was quarterbacks coach for the New York Jets from 2007-2008 before becoming offensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns for two years and the Miami Dolphins and Chiefs for one year each.

``Having another set of eyes with experience and (someone who) has a lot of understanding of our system and how we go about doing things, I think, is only a positive,'' McDaniels said. ``Every detail is very critical at this time of year and having another football coach on your staff to help is nothing but helpful.''

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What lessons the rest of the NFL should, and shouldn’t, take from the league’s top rushing teams

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What lessons the rest of the NFL should, and shouldn’t, take from the league’s top rushing teams

A glance at the NFL over the final two months of the season gave an interesting glimpse where the league was headed. 

The Ravens, the NFL’s best offense, were a predominantly rushing team. They rushed for a league record 3,296 yards in the regular season and were the league’s top regular season team. 

The Titans rode running back Derrick Henry all season, which led to him finishing as the league’s leading rusher. Over the final nine games he rushed for an average of 24.6 carries per game, including 30 or more carries in three of the team’s final four games. 

And most recently, the 49ers won the NFC in dominating fashion over the Packers with just eight passing attempts and 42 rushing attempts. 

With a handful of the league’s best rushing teams advancing in the playoffs, there appeared to be a change in the way teams attacked defenses in the NFL.

But those stats have been a bit misleading for the crowd that wants to establish the run for the sake of establishing a ground attack. What the Ravens and Titans did was make rushing the football more efficient than any other team in the league. 

Baltimore rushed for 5.5 yards per carry in the regular season, half-a-yard more than any other team in the league. They were only one of three teams to surpass the five yard-mark — one other team was the Titans. 

When compared to passing stats across the league, however, none of the qualified quarterbacks had worse than a six-yard average when passing the ball. Speaking strictly from the numbers, passing is still more advantageous than rushing the ball, no matter what teams that advanced far in the playoffs accomplished. 

What the Ravens and Titans do have, however, are two athletes that are unique in the NFL. Lamar Jackson was the league’s best rushing quarterback of all time and Henry led the league in total rushing yards. 

So the Ravens and Titans didn’t reinvent the wheel and show the NFL the ground game was more effective, but instead showed the league to lean into the special talents that both teams had. 

While the Titans were clearly better when Henry had his best days on the ground, there’s not a direct relationship to more Henry touches equaling a better day for the Titans. 

When the Ravens fell behind 14-0 to the Titans, Henry had just seven rushes for 28 yards on the ground. Down the stretch, he rushed 23 more times for 167 yards — a 7.26 yard average. Essentially, the Titans used Henry most effectively when they had already scored the winning points. 

The same can be said for the 49ers in the NFC Championship, who barely used Jimmy Garoppolo's arm. But when Raheem Mostert averages more than seven yards per carry, it’s difficult to get away from the run. 

So while it might seem that simply running the ball got teams to the playoffs, and championship games, it was the fact that they were able to run the ball more efficiently than other teams across the league. Rushing attempts weren’t the reason those teams won, but how they used those rushing attempts instead.

And when Jackson and Henry are leading the charge, it’s hard not to give them the ball.

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Former Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees announces retirement

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Former Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees announces retirement

Former Ravens and Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees announced his retirement from coaching Monday afternoon, just a day after Tennessee lost in the AFC Championship Game to Kansas City.

Pees, at age 70, had just finished his 47th year of coaching. He had previously been a coordinator for the Titans, Ravens and Patriots at the NFL level. He began coaching at the University of Findlay (OH) in 1979 as a defensive coordinator where he rose through the college ranks. 

Pees was in Baltimore from 2010-2017, where he started as a linebackers coach and was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2012. He won Super Bowl XLVII with the Ravens.

During his time as a coordinator, the Ravens ranked in the top 10 of scoring defenses three times, where he saw franchise greats like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed end their careers.

Pees’ defense in Tennessee this season stiffened down the stretch, as it allowed just 25 total points in the first two playoff games against New England and Baltimore. The Titans lost 35-24 to the Chiefs on Sunday.

In 10 of his 12 seasons as a defensive coordinator in the NFL, Pees led his defenses to a top 12 finish in points allowed.

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