FOXBORO -- Rob Gronkowski was back on the field and taking part in some blocking drills on Thursday afternoon on the fields behind Gillette Stadium.
That's good news for the Patriots for a variety of reasons. It means his back has progressed to the point that he can get back in pads and absorb a little bit of contact. It also means that he's trending in the right direction to be able to play Monday night after missing last weekend's game against the Bears. And if he can play Monday night, history would indicate that he'll play well.
When Gronkowski returns home to Western New York, he usually makes the most of it. Over the course of his career, in Buffalo, he's averaging 6.3 catches, 104.3 yards and a touchdown per game.
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Last year Gronkowski finished off his day in Buffalo by taking a shot at corner Tre'Davious White, which got him suspended for the following week. But that moment overshadowed the nine-catch, 147-yard performance he put together to that point.
He caught passes on six different Bills defenders, and Buffalo coach Sean McDermott remembers it well. On a conference call Thursday, he said that he expected Gronkowski to play, giving Tom Brady an arsenal that could rival any he's had in the past.
"They’ve got a ton of weapons," McDermott said. "I feel like their weapons this year outnumber the weapons they’ve had in recent years. With Gronk probably playing in our game, they’ll be at full strength."
Gronkowski wasn't the only regular back on the practice field Thursday. Marcus Cannon and Deatrich Wise were also available.
Wise played just 10 snaps in Chicago with knee and ankle issues, but he recorded a sack, giving him a team-high 3.5 for the season.
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Cannon, meanwhile, could factor into one of the most important matchups on the field Monday night: Bills pass-rusher Jerry Hughes versus whichever Patriots right tackle is on the field.
Cannon must clear the NFL's concussion protocol before he is an option on game day, and if he can't go then the Patriots have a dependable fill-in in LaAdrian Waddle. Against the Bears last week, Waddle played all 64 snaps and had no issue handling injured pass-rusher Khalil Mack.
Hughes has been one of the best rushers in football for McDermott's club this season. He's also a rusher who primarily works against right tackles (95.3 percent of his pass-rush snaps come off the right side, according to Pro Football Focus). No one, according to PFF, has more total pressures than Hughes this season (36 combined sacks, hits and hurries).
The Patriots were without Sony Michel, Eric Rowe and Brian Schwenke at practice Thursday.
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