BUFFALO — In a move that was in no way considered surprising, the Patriots said tight end Rob Gronkowski will not play in their season opener Sunday in Buffalo.
Gronkowski, recovering from June back surgery, returned to practice last week, but did so on a limited basis. The Patriots had already announced that the tight end was doubtful to play.
Also downgraded to out were running back Brandon Bolden (knee), wide receiver Aaron Dobson (hamstring), and defensive backs Duron Harmon (hamstring) and Nate Ebner (ankle).
With Gronkowski not playing, New England will have just two tight ends, Zach Sudfeld and Michael Hoomanawanui; Harmon’s absence means there will only be three safeties: Devin McCourty, Steve Gregory, and Tavon Wilson.
Also, New England announced that it re-signed veteran running back/kick returner Leon Washington and promoted rookie offensive lineman Josh Kline from the practice squad.
It is interesting that the Patriots re-signed Washington when they did. As a vested veteran, the fact that he was on the roster at 4 p.m. Saturday means his salary is fully guaranteed.
With Will Svitek (knee) declared out, elevating Kline was a logical roster move. He has been with the Patriots since May, and was on the 53-man roster after final cuts, but was released a couple of days later, then brought back to the practice squad.
To get to the roster limit, the Patriots released rookie defensive lineman A.J. Francis, who had been claimed off waivers from Miami last week.
Stephen Gostkowski has hit on better than 84 percent of his field goal attempts in his seven seasons with the Patriots, making him the most consistent kicker in franchise history.
But Gostkowski raised some eyebrows after going 3 for 6 on field goal attempts in the preseason. If coach Bill Belichick was unnerved by the performance, he wasn’t showing it, expressing complete confidence in his kicker last month and calling him one of the best in the league.
For his part, Gostkowski doesn’t seem worried as he heads into the regular season, though it’s probably a plus he’s crossing Ralph Wilson Stadium off the list. The Bills’ home can be one of the league’s tougher venues when it comes to wind conditions.
“It’s a day-to-day thing,” Gostkowski said of his consistency. “There are days I come out and I feel great, you can’t miss. There are days you come out and we have to work a little harder to get it back together. I’ve never been one to make any predictions or set any kind of goals, I just go day to day, game to game, and kick the kick.
“There are games where I’ve gone out in warm-ups and I can’t miss — I can kick 65-yard field goals — and we don’t try any field goals [in the game]. So me trying to guess what and when I’m going to do it, I don’t even worry about it. I just focus on the next kick; the first kickoff is the next thing I’m worried about, or the first field goal.”
When he does miss — last year Gostkowski was 29 of 35 overall with a long of 53 yards — the most important thing is to clear it out of his mind and get ready for his next chance.
“I just try to play dumb during the game, and if I make it, I move on, if I miss it, I move on,” he said. “Obviously bad games I have, I’m really hard on myself, but I wait until after the game. If you let one kick turn into two, that’s when you screw yourself up.”