The New England Patriots will be leaning on Aaron Hernandez for their production from the tight end position with Rob Gronkowski officially ruled out of the Sunday night game against the San Francisco 49ers.
Gronkowski hasn't played since the Patriots' 59-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts in Week 11. The Patriots will also go without five other players this evening, including rookie offensive tackle Markus Zusevics, veteran safety Derrick Martin, defensive lineman Ron Brace, defensive end Jake Bequette and linebacker Tracy White.
The 49ers will be without one of the favorite targets of both Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick, with Mario Manningham sitting out tonight. Linebacker Tavares Gooden will be on the bench tonight along with safety Trenton Robinson, running back Jewel Hampton, offensive guard Joe Looney and nose tackle Ian Williams.
A win for the 49ers would push their division lead to a game and a half in the NFC West before facing the team that's chasing them, the Seattle Seahawks, next week. The Patriots, meanwhile, need to win to stay ahead of the Denver Broncos for the second seed in the AFC and the all-important first-round bye.