Time will tell if tight end Rob Gronkowski returns from his offseason surgical procedures and plays for the first time this season Sunday against Tampa Bay. He’s practiced during the week, but he still missed the first two games while continuing his recovery from surgeries on his back and forearm.
According to a league source, Gronkowski is healthy enough to play, but the Patriots want to get him more practice time before suiting him up in a game. For that reason, the source said, the Patriots are leaning toward keeping Gronkowski out of Sunday’s home game with the Buccaneers.
Whenever Gronkowski’s return comes, Josh McDaniels, the Patriots’ offensive coordinator, knows what kind of impact it will have.
“I think any time you have a player that can make the kind of impact that Rob has made in the past, if you have a player like that back, it has to affect your plan, and hopefully only in a positive manner,” McDaniels said Tuesday, during the Patriots’ weekly coaches’ conference call. “I don’t know if it would affect the groupings that we would use, or whether we would use a certain tempo or not, I don’t know if that would impact it. But you’d like to have a guy like that on the field as much as you can if he’s ready and able to contribute the way that Rob has always been able to.”
Gronkowski has been listed as questionable before each of the first two games, even though he’s practiced. It seems evident that his appearance in a game is getting closer, an addition that would certainly help a struggling offense.
“Our game plan is going to be set up for the opponent, and it’s hopefully going to be set up in such a way that we can take advantage of some opportunities,” McDaniels said. “The ones that are available at the tight end position would certainly have application for Rob if he happened to play, whenever that is.”
Tampa Bay will be making its second visit to Gillette Stadium in just over a month. The teams went against each other during joint practices prior to their Aug. 16 preseason game, won by the Patriots, 25-21. So coach Bill Belichick knows all about Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman, who has gotten off to a slow start.
Among starting quarterbacks, Freeman is last in the NFL in completion percentage (45.3), next-to-last in passing yards (335), and ahead of only Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden and Geno Smith of the Jets in passer rating (63.0).
Still, Belichick used glowing terms to describe Freeman.
“Athletic, does a good job in the pocket, he’s a hard guy to get down, runs well,” Belichick said. “We have to be very disciplined with our rush lanes, because they roll him out a decent amount with bootlegs, sprint-out plays, things like that.
“He’s got a great arm, he’s a big, tall guy who can see over the line and makes all the throws. We saw that at practice and we’ve seen it in the games.”
Belichick said he’s not sure what to expect from the Buccaneers on defense. Tampa Bay has allowed 16 and 18 points in its first two games, both last-second losses by field goals.
“I don’t think you can sit there and really predict what they’re going to do because they have a nice mixture. That’s one of the things that makes them so good defensively,” Belichick said. “Sometimes they come, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they change their defenses based on what you do offensively. I think you just have to be ready for everything.”
The Patriots will also be going up against Darrelle Revis. The cornerback is spending his first season in Tampa Bay after six years with the Jets, becoming a four-time All-Pro selection.
“Well, at least we only have to play against him once,” Belichick said. “He’s good. I thought he played well against the Jets [in the season opener] with some limited playing time, and then this past week he played almost every snap against New Orleans.’’ It looks like he’s playing well.”
Sunday will mark the first time that McDaniels ever has coached against a family member — at least in a regular-season NFL game. His younger brother, Ben McDaniels, is in his second season as an offensive assistant coach for the Buccaneers. They’ve been on opposite sidelines in two preseason games, this year and in 2012.
“It will be an enjoyable thing for us to see one another, and I know we are both going to be competing and trying to help our teams the best that we can,” Josh McDaniels said. “I wish him all the success in the world because he is my brother, but for one weekend we’re going to try to do everything we can to be successful on our side. I know they will do the same.”
No Amendola surgery
Receiver Danny Amendola has responded to treatment and will not require surgery for a groin injury, according to a league source. Amendola is expected to miss 2-6 weeks, with the source putting his return on the shorter end of that scale . . . Former Patriots receiver Brandon Lloyd, who spurned an offer from the Patriots (among others), has chosen a different line of work: acting. MassLive.com reported that Lloyd will be in a DVD zombie thriller with Daniel Baldwin called “After Effect.’’ . . . Through two games, the Patriots have just about flipped their rankings from recent seasons in two key team categories. They’re eighth in total defense (fourth against the pass, and 28th against the run), and 22d in team offense (13th in rushing, 21st in passing) . . . Belichick’s debut as coach of the Patriots came Sept. 3, 2000, in a 21-16 home loss to the Buccaneers . . . The teams have played just twice since then, with the Patriots winning both games: 28-0 in 2005, and 35-7 in 2009, at London’s Wembley Stadium.