FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots take a 3-0 record into Sunday night’s game at Atlanta against the dangerous Falcons.
The Patriots’ offense appeared to get untracked in last week’s 23-3 win over Tampa Bay. The defense has yet to allow a point in the fourth quarter this season.
Yet the news from Gillette Stadium these days continues to revolve around a couple of injured players: tight end Rob Gronkowski and slot receiver Danny Amendola.
Gronkowski, recovering from offseason surgery to his left forearm and back, has yet to play this year. Amendola was praised for a gutsy effort in the season’s opening game, when he played the second half with a groin injury, but hasn’t played since.
Their health, progress and availability have been the subjects of numerous questions during Coach Bill Belichick’s and Tom Brady’s press conferences.
At one point on Monday, Belichick uttered the phrases “he was inactive” (for Gronkowski) or “they were inactive” (for Gronkowski and Amendola) seven times in response to questions from Albert Breer of the NFL Network.
Belichick was asked six more questions on those two players on Wednesday. Brady was also asked about Gronkowski.
Their health — and potential contributions to an offense that has struggled to score — is, of course, of interest to every Patriots fan (or fantasy football owner).
So it was nice to hear from both on Wednesday.
Gronkowski, especially, was as cool as he ever has been, even with the lights of multiple cameras making him sweat.
At one point, Gronkowski was asked by Breer whether he thought he could have played last Sunday.
Gronkowski’s answer was priceless.
“I was inactive,” he said. He then winked at Breer, prompting a loud laugh from the media horde surrounding his locker.
The biggest thing that could be taken from these interviews is that both are getting closer. Whether that means both of them, one of them or neither of them play Sunday night in Atlanta is still unclear.
“I’m staying positive, keeping in the playbook,” said Amendola, who caught 10 passes for 104 yards in that opening game. “I go to every meeting and try to obtain as much knowledge as I can.”
“There’s a light. I can see it.”
Amendola, who didn’t appear to walk with a limp on Wednesday, doesn’t know how he was able to play in the second half of the opener at Buffalo. He was injured late in the first half, yet came back to make several huge catches down the stretch as the Patriots rallied past the Bills.
He doesn’t know if he injured the groin more by playing in the second half.
All he knows is that he’s getting better.
“Whatever will get me on the field fastest and in good health and good standing and I can do what I can do,” he said, “that’s the path we’re on now.”
For Gronkowski, that path has been complicated by the fact that he was unable to do anything for a couple of months while recovering from surgery.
His progress cannot be measured simply by getting into shape.
“I took off my whole body for a couple of months,” said Gronkowski. “That’s a big process getting back in shape, running shape, football shape, and regaining strength. I’ve been working on that the whole time the last few weeks.”
Gronkowski sees the progress. So does Belichick.
“Just doing better; football conditioning,” said Belichick.
Last week, the Patriots changed Gronkowski’s status from doubtful to questionable on Friday. That meant he had a 50-50 chance of playing against the Bucs.
Asked about that switch in designation, Gronkowski shrugged.
“I don’t even know how that works out,” he said. “I mean, from doubtful to questionable, I don’t know. Like I said, I’m improving every week so whoever makes that call must have seen something in my improvement.”
This much is clear, the Patriots are not going to rush either Gronkowski or Amendola back. New England is ranked last among the NFL’s 32 teams in red zone (inside the opponent’s 20) offense. Last!
Of 13 possessions inside the 20, they have scored only four touchdowns.
Gronkowski and Amendola are perfect weapons inside the 20. But Brady wouldn’t say whether having them back immediately improves the team’s chances of scoring.
“Hopefully at some point when he’s back, he can play a role,” said Brady. “When he’s not out there, look, we have to count on the other guys to do it. I know we haven’t been great in the red area this year, but it’s no excuse. The guys that are out there are plenty capable, I’m plenty capable of getting the ball into tight spots and making the plays.
“We have to run the ball in. If they’re taking away the run, we have to throw the ball in. … We can be a better red-area team than we’ve been, we just have to go out and execute better.”
And when he returns, what can we expect from Gronkowski?
“Just the same old,” he said. “Doing what the coaches ask me to do, what play is called, how Tom wants things run. I’ll do what I’ve been doing the last few years out on the field.”
Patriots fans can’t wait.
Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: