EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – After missing three of the last four games with ankle and back issues, tight end Rob Gronkowski will return to the Patriots lineup. Gronkowski all but declared as much when he spoke with the media in Foxborough on Friday, but late this morning, the team made it official. His presence should help provide a boost to an offense that struggled to put up points in its last outing against the Titans.
Also being welcomed back today is right guard Shaq Mason, who has been sidelined the past two games with a calf injury. That should allow the Patriots to field their normal starting five on the offensive line for the first time since Buffalo in Week 8.
Meanwhile, QB Tom Brady came down with an illness late this past week, and was held out of practice Friday as a result, but he’ll also be ready to go today. However, rookie cornerback Duke Dawson, activated off injured reserved during the bye week, is apparently not quite ready to contribute in game action. He’s among several healthy scratches this week (players not listed on the injury report).
One exception is special teams expert Nate Ebner, who sustained a knee injury during Friday’s practice. He’ll consequently be held out of today’s game, which will force the coaching staff to readjust its depth chart to compensate for the many units on which Ebner normally serves.
The final four inactive Patriots, as previously alluded to, will not see action today, but are otherwise fit: offensive linemen Matt Tobin and James Ferentz, and defensive ends Keionta Davis and Derek Rivers.
On the other side of the field, New York has a pair of talented young safeties, but one of them won’t suit up today. Marcus Maye has been dealing with thumb and shoulder problems that kept him out of practices all this past week. That’s one less concern for Brady and his receivers.
Starting left guard James Carpenter is also inactive for the Jets today – a potential area for the Patriots to target in putting pressure on backup QB Josh McCown, who’s filling in for injured rookie starter Sam Darnold. The young Darnold has been in a medical boot lately, but experienced veteran McCown shouldn’t be discounted as an understudy. New England needs to find a way to make him uncomfortable this afternoon.