FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Patriots released veteran tight ends Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells in the first batch of final cuts.

Now comes the really hard part.

The Patriots released 10 players on Friday and must reduce their roster by 12 more to get down to the NFL regular-season limit of 53 by 6 p.m. Saturday.

Tim Tebow could be in jeopardy despite a decent performance Thursday in a 28-20 win over the New York Giants. The third-string quarterback completed 6 of 11 passes for 91 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He also was sacked four times but got poor protection on some of them.

“It’s not just one game (that matters),” Coach Bill Belichick said Friday about the player evaluation process, “although every game is important. But the body of work, the camp, the rate of improvement, the ability to do the things that players are going to be asked to do at their respective positions (also matters).”

Belichick spoke before the cuts were announced and gave no indication of which players he might let go.

The cuts of Ballard and Fells indicate that Rob Gronkowski could be ready to play sooner than expected after missing all four exhibition games following back surgery. He’s one of three tight ends still on the roster.

The Patriots released three other veterans — defensive end Marcus Benard, wide receiver Johnathan Haggerty and linebacker Mike Rivera — first-year offensive lineman Luke Patterson and four rookie free agents — fullback Ben Bartholomew, defensive linemen Gilbert Pena and Scott Vallone and offensive lineman Matt Stankiewitch.

The Patriots hoped Ballard could contribute this year when they claimed him off waivers from the Giants in 2012. The knee injury he sustained in the 2012 Super Bowl kept him out all last season, and he didn’t seem at full strength this summer. He didn’t catch any passes in exhibition games.