Saturday, March 8, 2014
The Associated Press
(Continued from page 1)
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski carries the ball for extra yardage in Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts in Foxborough, Mass. Gronkowski left the game in the fourth quarter with an arm injury.
"It's part of this game," he said on his weekly appearance on WEEI radio. "He's got to do his best to get back as soon as possible, and we've got to go out there and win some games without him."
Gronkowski had 10 touchdown catches as a rookie in 2010, then set NFL records for tight ends last year with 17 touchdowns and 1,327 yards receiving. He caught 90 passes. But he sprained his left ankle in the AFC title game and was a nonfactor in the Super Bowl, which New England lost 21-17 to the New York Giants.
The Patriots' other first-string tight end, Aaron Hernandez, has missed the last three games — and a total of six this season — after he sprained his right ankle in Week 2. He has 17 catches for 143 yards and two touchdowns in four games.
"We'll see," Hernandez said Monday when asked if he would play Thursday. Belichick said it might come down to "a game-time decision."
The Patriots will have 10 days following Thanksgiving before they play again, giving Hernandez extra time to recover if he doesn't play.
"I think that a player's availability for the game would be judged on its merits, period, for this game," Belichick said.
Hernandez practiced on a limited basis Monday, as he has before each of the last three games.
Gronkowski is "one of the best players in the league," Hernandez said. "It puts pressure on everybody. Not just one player can just replace him."
The other tight ends on the roster — Daniel Fells, Michael Hoomanawanui and Visanthe Shiancoe — have a total of four receptions. Shiancoe has played just two games since being activated off the injured reserve list. Fells was healthy but inactive and Shiancoe had no catches against the Colts.
"He gets better every time he goes on the field," Belichick said of Shiancoe. "He has a chance to run the plays in our system, which he missed the majority of training camp being able to do that."
Shiancoe is not unfamiliar with a starting role. In his 10th season in the league, Shiancoe came into his own as a Viking. After four ho-hum seasons with the Giants, Shiancoe made the most of his time with Minnesota, topping 500 yards receiving three times in five seasons.
In 2008-09 and 2009-10, in fact, he caught 18 total touchdown passes.