Tight end Rob Gronkowski (back) and receiver Danny Amendola (groin) are officially listed as questionable for Sunday night’s showdown against the Falcons at Atlanta.
But the Patriots’ two offensive stalwarts are trying their best to be on the field, even if it’s for a limited number of snaps.
According to a league source, the Patriots’ plan as of Friday was to have both Gronkowski and Amendola in the lineup, though not on a full basis. Both players have been limited in practice all week, but had their travel bags packed on Friday afternoon as the Patriots wrapped up preparations. The source reiterated that Amendola and Gronkowski will likely be game-time decisions, but the team hopes to have both of them in the lineup.
If Gronkowski does play, it will be his first game since Jan. 13, when he broke his forearm in the playoffs against Houston. He has had three surgeries on his forearm and one to fix a herniated disk in his back since then, and Sunday’s game will mark nearly 15 weeks since his back surgery (the timetable for return from disk surgery is generally 12 weeks).
As for Amendola, he has missed the last two games since tearing his groin in the Week 1 win against Buffalo, in which he played through the injury and caught 10 passes for 104 yards.
But Amendola was able to avoid surgery, has practiced with his teammates in each of the last two weeks, and looked much healthier in practice this week.
Gronkowski and Amendola would be welcome additions to a Patriots offense ranked just 22d in scoring through three games (19.7 points per game) and 32d in red zone scoring, with touchdowns in just 30 percent of their possessions.
No running joke
The Bills and Jets both ran for more than 100 yards against the Patriots, and the Buccaneers came 3 yards shy of doing the same.
Each time, defensive lineman Tommy Kelly said, it felt like their opponents were taking something from them.
“It’s just something about when a team comes into your place and they think they can run the ball on you,” Kelly said. “It kind of, like, takes a little bit out of you as a man.”
The 120.7 yards rushing per game the Patriots have given up is the ninth highest clip in the league. Against a Falcons team that’s 22d in the NFL in rushing, Kelly said the Patriots are hoping to rein it in.
“We’ve still got to knock about 30, 40 yards off that run average,” Kelly said. “We just want to keep the numbers down between 90 and 80 yards a game, I think we’ll be all right.”
And Kelly knows with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez on the field, the running game isn’t the Falcons’ top priority.
“They want to run the ball, but you got a top-five quarterback, two big-time receivers, Hall of Fame tight end, they’re going to throw the ball,” Kelly said. “You don’t want them to run the ball. You don’t want — ever — an offense to feel like they can run the ball against you. So, you want to stop the run and get them in long-yard situations and try to get Matt Ryan off his spot.”
Considering the Falcons have outscored their opponents, 31-0, in the first quarter this season, Kelly said whatever the Patriots decide to do to slow down the Falcons, they’ll have to do it early.
“That’s their routine,” Kelly said. “They’re a fast-starting team, they want to get up on you and then play from ahead with that crowd noise and let their defense pin their ears back and get after the pass. So any time we can get them off the field, get a couple three-and-outs to start the game, try to get them out of rhythm.”
Chandler Jones has never been to Atlanta for a football game, so the defensive end is looking forward to getting to the Georgia Dome.
Jones might be able to lend a hand if any of his teammates are lacking in dome experience. He played at Syracuse, in the Carrier Dome.
His best dome advice?
“Be sure to hydrate. Playing at Syracuse, I felt like we had the advantage on a lot of teams because they weren’t used to playing in that atmosphere. You can always turn the heat up,” Jones said. “It’s harder to breathe, so hydrate, maybe get an IV before the game, something like that. It’s a lot warmer, guys cramp up.”
Is Jones insinuating that Syracuse would purposely crank the heat up? Did it work?
“It definitely worked for the Orange,” Jones said. “That was our 12th man right there, that hot Carrier Dome.”
Tom Brady already took the blame for the Patriots’ inefficiency in the red zone this season, but rookie receiver Aaron Dobson said that over the week, it’s been something the team has worked on “a little more than usual.”
The Patriots have made 13 trips to the red zone (third most in the NFL) but have only four touchdowns to show for it.
“That’s something we’ve been improving on,” Dobson said. “We’ve been working on that a lot in practice, red area, trying to score the ball. So I feel like we’ve been working on that and it’s going to show up on Sunday.”
The Patriots released cornerback Marquice Cole on Friday. Cole had been battling a hamstring injury, and was mainly a special teams contributor. He appeared in 12 games last season, with one interception.
Rookie safety Kanorris Davis will be promoted from the practice squad to take Cole’s roster spot.