Rob Gronkowski made his season debut for the New England Patriots.
The star tight end, wearing a black sleeve over his left arm, was in on the Patriots’ first offensive play in Sunday’s game against the New York Jets. He was active after being listed as questionable. His agent Drew Rosenhaus said Friday that Gronkowski had been cleared by his doctors to play.
Gronkowski caught a 12-yard pass from Tom Brady on the Patriots’ fourth offensive play, giving New England a first down. He also had a 30-yard catch on the drive, which was capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Brandon Bolden.
Gronkowski had offseason surgery on his back and broken left forearm, but participated in every practice on a limited basis since the season began. His return gives New England’s offense a huge lift after it has struggled to start the season, particularly in the red zone. The Patriots rank 30th in the NFL with nine touchdowns on 22 trips inside the 20-yard line after leading the league last season.
Gronkowski also has had success against New York, including six catches for 78 yards and two scores the last time he played against the Jets in the teams’ first meeting of 2012.
The Patriots had given no indication whether Gronkowski would make his debut Sunday, with the tight end telling reporters Thursday: "I’m just improving every week. That’s all. Like I said, nothing has changed."
Wide receiver Danny Amendola is out with a concussion, but fellow receiver and special teams ace Matthew Slater is active for the first time since breaking his left wrist against the Jets in Week 2.
Also among the inactives for the Patriots are defensive tackle Tommy Kelly (knee), cornerback Aqib Talib (hip) and running back Leon Washington (ankle).
It has been a rough stretch for injuries to key players for New England, which lost star linebacker Jerod Mayo, the NFL’s leading tackler since 2010, for the season because of a torn chest muscle in last Sunday’s 30-27 win over New Orleans, and nose tackle Vince Wilfork earlier this season.
Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes is inactive, as expected, with a hamstring injury. Jeremy Kerley starts in Holmes’ place.
Cornerbacks Dee Milliner (hamstring) and Kyle Wilson (concussion) are active. Milliner, the team’s top draft pick in April, missed three games after being hurt during practice three weeks ago. Wilson suffered a concussion last Sunday against Pittsburgh.
Also among New York’s inactives are quarterback Brady Quinn and wide receiver Greg Salas.