Eight days before Super Sunday, the Patriots and their fans got some very good news Saturday.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski was back on the practice field at Gillette Stadium. Gronkowski has been out since suffering a concussion in the AFC Championship Game victory over the Jaguars last Sunday. Here's how he looked, via NBCBoston's Perry Russom:
The Jags' Barry Church, by the way, was fined $24,309 by the NFL for the helmet-to-helmet hit that injured Gronkowski, according to ESPN's Mike Reiss.
Defensive lineman Deatrich Wise, who also sustained a concussion against the Jags, was also back. The Boston Herald reported that despite practicing, Gronkowski still is out of the NFL's concussion protocol. Being cleared to participate in non-contact practices is the fourth step of a five-step process.
Defensive lineman Malcom Brown (foot) was the only player absent from practice Saturday.
Still, it's a good sign that Tom Brady's top target is back on the field more than a week before the Pats take on the Eagles in Minneapolis.
Brady practiced without a glove on his throwing hand for the first time since he injured it at practice in the week leading up to the AFC title game. He had the black tape across the cut below his thumb just as he wore in the victory over the Jags.
The Patriots will practice in Foxboro Sunday before leaving for Minneapolis on Monday after a send-off rally at Gillette Stadium at 9 a.m.
Julian Edelman is grinding.
The New England Patriots receiver, who is recovering from an ACL repair surgery that ended his 2017 season, shared a quick video from his workout on Tuesday. Edelman is shown running with a resistance band and a trainer in-tow.
Edelman has posted a few tidbits on social media to show encouraging signs during his recovery since he got surgery in October after suffering an ACL tear in a preseason game. He was spotted around the locker room a few times during the final weeks of the 2017 season.
"Rehab is a [expletive]. It sucks," Edelman said in November on Barstool Sports' "Pardon My Take podcast." "You go in and you’re feeling decent and then you warm up, you beat it up and then you get stiff again. I mean it’s just a process and you go in six days a week and you’re going into work it, work on everything — your flexion, your extension."
Steelers tight end Jesse James is glad the Patriots' Super Bowl pursuit is done -- mostly because he played a big part in helping accelerate it.
In the final moments of the game, James failed to catch the ball during a Week 15 contest between the Steelers and the Patriots. The non-catch was a controversial one.
James told Centre Daily Times' Josh Moyer he finally felt relief on the morning after the Super Bowl when the Patriots fell to the Eagles, 41-33.
“I don’t feel like I gave them a Super Bowl with that,” James told the Daily Times. “So I’m over it now, but it’s going to be a topic of conversation until the rule gets changed — or it doesn’t.”
James' play was initially ruled a touchdown before the referees overturned the play, and took the lead away from the Steelers in the final moments of the game. Ben Roethlisberger then threw an interception a few plays later. By winning, the Patriots took a huge step in locking themselves into the AFC's top seed with a first-round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs, which they rode into the Super Bowl.
But of course, they couldn't finish their Super Bowl pursuit -- to James' satisfaction.