FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots were down two potent offensive weapons Sunday night when tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back Sony Michel were ruled out with lingering injuries.
Gronkowski has been on the injury report in recent weeks with ankle and back woes and missed the win over the Bears two weeks ago, but he returned for last Monday night’s win over the Bills.
Concern that Gronkowski might not suit up for the Packers game surfaced Wednesday when a subdued Gronkowski spoke to the media after the team’s walkthrough and answered “living” when asked how he was feeling.
He missed the team’s full-pads practice on Thursday but did return for Friday’s sweats-and-shells workout.
The tight end, who hasn’t scored a touchdown since Week 1, did say his confidence level was “good . . . because we’re winning” before cutting his news conference short.
Michel suffered a knee injury in the Bears game but missed only a few days of practice. He was limited/questionable all week and told reporters Friday he was feeling “pretty good,” leading to speculation that he’d return against the Packers.
Michel is the Patriots’ leading rusher with 422 yards and his absence meant the team had just two healthy backs (James White and Kenjon Barner) for the second straight week. Against the Bills, receiver Cordarrelle Patterson was the club’s leading rusher.
New England’s other inactives were tight end Jacob Hollister, offensive linemen Shaq Mason, Brian Schwenke, and Cole Croston, and linebacker Nicholas Grigsby.
The Patriots got Marcus Cannon back after the starting right tackle missed the last two games because of a concussion.
Also returning was depth defensive lineman and special teams ace Geneo Grissom, who missed the last five games because of an ankle injury.
Additionally, offensive lineman James Ferentz, who was signed to the active roster on Saturday, was active for the first time.
Ranks right up there
Patterson is one kickoff return for a touchdown away from moving into third place all time in the NFL. He is currently tied with six other players with six. Josh Cribbs and Leon Washington share the top spot with eight.
Patterson, who was added to the injury list (neck) on Friday, has thrived in multiple roles for the Patriots. Patterson is a very confident player with excellent size and athleticism. His big plays and big personality act like jolts of adrenaline not only on game days but apparently on every other day, too.
“He’s a lot of fun, because he comes to work every day with a really good attitude, a lot of energy, and the guys really respond to his energy,’’ said special teams coach Joe Judge. “He’s very intuned to what you’re telling him. He wants any coaching point that can help him. He’s very interested in whatever he has to do to be successful. He’s a lot of fun to work with.’’
Remembering Dr. Z
Bill Belichick opened his Friday morning news conference with a nice tribute to Paul Zimmerman — better known to most as Dr. Z — the influential NFL reporter who died earlier in the week at age 86.
Zimmerman wrote for Sports Illustrated for more than 30 years and also penned the very popular, “A Thinking Man’s Guide to Pro Football.”
“Paul was a great ambassador for professional football, and I think that what he did through the years with his background and insight on the draft, I would say some of the behind-the-scenes organizational insight that he gave due to his great sources and trust that he created with so many people was pretty interesting reading in the Sports Illustrated columns,’’ said Belichick. “I always kind of felt like Paul and [the Globe’s] Will McDonough were kind of two of the really well-connected, respected writers that covered the game, certainly when I came into the game and then for many years thereafter.’’
Tom Brady entered with a 20-11 record on “Sunday Night Football,” including 1-0 against the Packers. In the 2010 victory, also a Gillette, Green Bay was without Aaron Rodgers because of an injury. Matt Flynn made his first career start and acquitted himself quite well, throwing three touchdown passes in the 31-27 loss. The game is probably best remembered for offensive lineman Dan Connolly’s 71-yard kickoff return, one of the most memorable special teams plays in Patriots history . . . Overall, the Patriots entered with a 29-19 record on “Sunday Night Football.’’ . . . For the Packers, receiver Randall Cobb, who had been questionable with a hamstring, was active. Receiver Geronimo Allison (hamstring) was among Green Bay’s inactives. The others: offensive linemen Justin McCray and Alex Light; quarterback Tim Boyle; linebacker Korey Toomer; cornerback Tony Brown; and punter Drew Kaser . . . The Patriots wore their dark blue “color rush” uniforms for the fourth time. Previously, they beat the Texans in the Jacoby Brissett game in 2016, the Falcons in the fog game in 2017, and the Colts this season.