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New England Patriots' balance offsets loss of Gronk

The New England Patriots took care of business against a not-ready-for-prime-time Houston Texans team Sunday night, recording a workmanlike 41-28 victory that sets up an AFC Championship Game rematch with the Baltimore Ravens.

Rob Gronkowskire-broke his forearm in the first quarter, the type of injury that has the potential to cast a long shadow over a locker room. Gronkowski is the best tight end in football, after all. Losing a weapon of that magnitude -- especially at this juncture -- would be devastating for most teams.

Of course, the Patriots aren't most teams. Tom Brady still has several legitimate weapons to choose from between Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and the criminally underrated Brandon Lloyd. He's also Tom Brady, which helps in times like these.

But the Patriots' ability to rise above the loss of Gronk goes beyond the depth in their receiving corps. This is the most balanced offense in New England since the 2004 Super Bowl team that rung those last drops of greatness out of Corey Dillon.

The Patriots were the NFL's seventh-best running team this season, and they got 123 yards on 22 carries from Steven Ridley and Shane Vereen on Sunday.

It creates an elasticity to the Patriots' game plan that didn't exist in past seasons. Gronk is gone, but the Patriots remain a lethal bunch.

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @DanHanzus.

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