Monday night's game between the Ravens and Patriots will be New England's second straight without four-time Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was placed on injured reserve Dec. 3 to repair a herniated disc in his lower back.
But the Ravens' defensive players refuse to lower their guard about the Patriots' supposed lack of firepower.
"Obviously, he's a really, really good player," cornerback Jimmy Smith said. "For them not to have him is big on both of our sides. But at the same time, we know they're going to figure out how to make up for his production. We'll be ready for it."
The Ravens' reticence can be traced to the Patriots turning to Martellus Bennett, a 2014 Pro Bowl selection who ranks second on the offense in receptions (44) and yards (544) and is tied for the team lead in touchdown catches (four).
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees said there is no drop-off between Gronkowski and Bennett, who has six catches for 75 yards in two games against the Ravens.
"Bennett is a really excellent tight end," said Pees, who spent six years in New England as the linebackers coach and then defensive coordinator. "He did a great job against us when he was at Chicago. He hurt us. Personnel things, I almost don't even look at it because I'm just telling you, I know them and how they think and how they game plan. They're able to utilize their talent better than anybody there is."
The Patriots will also play without wide receiver Danny Amendola, who has 23 catches for 243 yards and four scores but is sidelined by a high right ankle sprain. Still, cornerback Jerraud Powers said the absence of Gronkowski and Amendola won't inhibit quarterback Tom Brady.
"He still has his targets," Powers said. "And he has [LeGarrette] Blount at the running back position and a great offensive line. So they still have their weapons. If you think our job is going to be easier because Gronk and Amendola are out, I guess you could say maybe, but that might be a little slight. [Coach Bill] Belichick has done a great job with that system and the guys that he gets to run that system. It's a tribute to what they do, and that's why they're so good year in and year out."