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Rob Gronkowski getting closer to full speed

Patriots fans are ready for Rob Gronkowski, shown during pregame warm-ups, to be 100 percent healthy.MATTHEW J. LEE/GLOBE STAFF/Globe Staff

FOXBOROUGH — If there was one silver lining on a gray day, it was that the Patriots are one step closer to getting Rob Gronkowski back to full speed as the All-Pro tight end ramped up his snaps in Sunday’s 16-0 loss to the Bills at Gillette Stadium.

Gronkowski, who is dealing with a balky hamstring, was still used mainly as a blocker but was targeted twice, collecting his first catch of the season, an 11-yarder in the fourth quarter.

With that catch, Gronkowski has 5,566 receiving yards, which is No. 20 all time among tight ends.

“I felt good today, went out there. The coaches, training staff, and everything, we just had a little plan, obviously, not to go every single play but to build it back up,’’ Gronkowski said. “I felt good out there, felt good every time I stepped out there; just got to keep on improving. It’s basically just up to me to get back to full speed. I’ve just got to go out to practice and do what I’ve got to do to get back to where I need to be.’’

Gronkowski said it’s no secret what the plan is now as the Patriots prepare to put Sunday’s loss behind them.


“To work and improve on mental mistakes, physical mistakes, you’ve just got to go back out to the practice fields, go back to the drawing boards, and get it back together,’’ he said. “It happens; it’s the game of football. Their defense is solid, they’re fast players, they run all around, so you’ve just got to study up, get back out on the practice field, come together as an offense, and work together this week to get better.’’

Martellus Bennett once again chipped in with a great game both blocking and receiving, and that has helped allow the Patriots to ease Gronkowski back in.


“He’s a great dude to work with and he’s an unbelievable football player,” Gronkowski said of his fellow tight end. “I’m super happy he’s here with us. He’s a great guy to work with blocking-wise and in the receiving game, and we learn a lot from each other, so I can’t wait until we’re both out there at full speed together.’’

Watch: Postgame analysis with Ben Volin and Jim McBride

Welcome back

With Tom Brady poised to return to Gillette Stadium on Monday, many players talked about how they’re looking forward to having him back, including Julian Edelman.

“He’s our leader and it’s going to be great to have him out there,’’ said Edelman. “We’re going to have a great week of preparation to get back in synch.”

However, Edelman also noted how impressed he was with the way rookie Jacoby Brissett conducted his business as he kept Brady’s seat warm the last two weeks.

“I’ll tell you one thing, No. 7, he’s a tough kid and he came out there and had a gutsy performance,’’ said Edelman of Brissett, who played with a wrap on his right wrist and thumb. “I gained a lot of respect for that young man and how poised he was to overcome the obstacles that he had to.’’

In addition to Brady, the Patriots will get defensive end Rob Ninkovich back Monday. The stalwart defensive end was given a four-game ban for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance.

“Brady and Nink are coming back, two of our best players, but that doesn’t [guarantee] we’re going to win the rest of our games,’’ said safety Devin McCourty. “Those guys will come back hungry and ready to go. But we’ve still got to execute to win.”


Though Brady could technically arrive at 12:01 a.m. Monday, few think that will be the case.

“If Tom thought being in the building at midnight and one second after would help us win games, then he’d be in the building at midnight and one second after,’’ said team president Jonathan Kraft with a laugh.

Even the Bills aren’t used to seeing someone other than Brady under center for the Patriots. Running back LeSean McCoy had a little slip-up postgame when he said the Bills had “the type of game plan you have to have when you’re facing a guy like Tom.”

Low points

It’s not often that the Patriots are held to fewer than 300 total yards, but the last three times it’s happened, Rex Ryan’s defense has been responsible.

The Patriots gained 277 total yards Sunday but were held to 231 on Dec. 21, 2014, and 232 on Sept. 12, 2013, against the Jets.

The difference, however, was that the Patriots won the two previous games.

“God, it feels good to finally win here. Been close about six times,’’ said Ryan. “Finally won one, it was great. I can say this for sure, that was about as good a weekend as you can have.’’

Appeal dropped

The NFLPA dropped the appeals case in Deflategate after consultation with Brady, who officially returns to action Sunday against the Browns. Brady dropped out of the case July 15, but he had given the players’ union permission to pursue legal action . . . Bennett’s 58-yard reception from Brissett was the longest of his career. He made several nifty dekes to avoid tackles after the catch and when asked about it he said, “That’s what I do. I can move with the ball in my hands. I was a point guard in high school.’’ . . . Dont’a Hightower (knee) returned after missing the last two games. The defensive captain and middle linebacker had eight tackles and one quarterback hit . . . Bill Belichick was spotted slamming his tablet to the ground after it malfunctioned shortly after the Bills’ first-quarter touchdown. He was given a replacement . . . Patriots rookie offensive lineman Ted Karras was inserted into the defensive line on the Bills’ last series but because of a stoppage in play never played a snap. “First time since high school,’’ he said. “Just trying to be ready for anything.’’ . . . The Patriots allowed first-quarter points for the first time this season . . . Rookie defensive tackle Vincent Valentine left with a back injury and didn’t return. He was walking gingerly in the locker room postgame . . . Bills linebacker Zach Brown was a beast. He had 18 total tackles, 3 for losses, 1 sack, and 2 forced fumbles . . . Bills guard Richie Incognito had an unsportsmanlike penalty and two holding infractions. “I don’t care about penalties,’’ he said. “We won.” . . . All players on both sides stood for the national anthem.


Photos: Patriots shut out by Bills


Box score: Bills 16, Patriots 0

Jim McBride can be reached at james.mcbride@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.