As late as Friday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said the possibility of Rob Gronkowski playing for the first time in six weeks was still in the hands of the team’s medical staff, which had yet to clear the tight end.
But a report by Comcast SportsNet New England Saturday said that Gronkowski will be in uniform for Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Dolphins. Gronkowski hasn’t played since breaking his left forearm late in the Patriots’ 59-24 win over Indianapolis Nov. 18.
Gronkowski returned to practice Dec. 14 and worked out with the team all last week in a limited role. The team listed Gronkowski as questionable on Friday’s injury report, one of 20 Patriots given that designation.
“When [team doctors] know it’s safe and sound and ready to go, that’s when it’s going to be ready to go,” Gronkowski said Wednesday. “I’m going to trust in them and when they say so. I’m anxious to get out there. Obviously, I want to go.”
With the 4:25 p.m. start, the team’s list of inactive players will be due approximately 90 minutes before kickoff. The Patriots might opt to see what transpires in the early Sunday games, especially Houston-Indianapolis. A loss by the Texans would open the door for a first-round bye for the Patriots with a victory over the Dolphins.
In addition to Gronkowski, the Patriots might reconsider the status of defensive backs Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard, mindful of the upcoming playoffs. Talib suffered a hip injury Dec. 10 and was limited to just eight snaps against the Jaguars last Sunday. Dennard missed that game with hamstring and knee injuries.
Talib will be participating in the playoffs for the first time in his five-year career, guaranteed to play at least one game at Gillette Stadium by virtue of the Patriots’ fourth straight AFC East title. The opponent remains undecided, and even though some early games Sunday will affect the pairings, Talib said he’s not interested in watching.
“Whatever happens in those games happens,” he said. “All we can do is control what we can control. We’ll do our best to handle our business.”
Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork agreed.
“Not at all,” he said, when asked if he’ll be scoreboard watching. “Our goal is to win, plain and simple.
“We can’t control anything else. We won’t be watching other games. We have a game to play ourselves. Everything else will work itself out.”
Brace is released
Defensive end Jermaine Cunningham was activated Saturday and is eligible to play against the Dolphins after serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. The Patriots released defensive tackle Ron Brace, who had been inactive for three straight games. Brace, a second-round pick in the 2009 draft out of Boston College, appeared in 10 games this season, and was credited with two tackles. The release of Brace means that only two of the 12 players picked by the Patriots in 2009 remain on the active roster (Sebastian Vollmer, Patrick Chung) . . . Receiver Kamar Aiken and defensive back Malcolm Williams were promoted from the practice squad to the active roster.