For the second consecutive season, the Ravens' road to the Super Bowl will run through Foxboro. And Baltimore wouldn't want it any other way.
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"I think we, personally, kind of wanted to play the Patriots again," said defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, though he made it clear he wasn't rooting for them against Houston. "If we were to go to the Super Bowl, it would be great to go through Foxboro and win there. Hopefully, we can get it done this time."
But even in the wake of their 38-35, double-overtime upset of the Broncos, the Ravens said they're not thinking about last year's game. "We've learned from it, we've grown from it," tight end Dennis Pitta said. "We're a different football team and so are they."
The favored Patriots won't have star tight end Rob Gronkowski. He suffered a season-ending left forearm injury Sunday and had surgery Monday, according to The Associated Press. He missed five games after surgery on the same forearm Nov. 19.
Bill Belichick grew a bit testy when asked about Gronkowski's return in Week 17. "I covered that yesterday," he said. "He was cleared by the doctors." When pressed, he said, "I have nothing to add."
Belichick did, however, hint that running back Danny Woodhead (thumb) will be available. The Patriots fared just fine Sunday without Woodhead, thanks to running back Shane Vereen's three touchdowns. Replacing Gronkowski's production will be far tougher.
"Certainly Rob is a unique player and he has some skills that allow you to do special things with him," Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. "I don't think it's really fair to say you just plug somebody in and off you go. But I thought Michael [Hoomanawanui] did a great job yesterday."
Justin Tucker's 27-yard field goal as time ran out gave the Ravens a 31-30 win over New England in Baltimore in Week 3. As Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich said: "If you look back at every game that we have had, it has come down to the end."
"Our destiny right now is to go to Foxboro," he said. "That's our destiny, and that's the destiny that we've earned. And we'll be there on time, and we'll be ready to try to play our best game."