FOXBOROUGH — While their AFC rivals got dealt serious injury blows over the weekend, the Patriots received several pieces of good news on the injury front Monday.
First, receiver Danny Amendola returned to practice after missing both practices last week and Thursday’s preseason game against the Lions. It is unclear why Amendola missed practice, but he is back in action and should be ready to go when the Patriots play the Bills Sept. 8.
Several other Patriots appear to be getting healthier, as well. Cornerback Ras-I Dowling, who has sat out the last three weeks with a mystery injury and has not played in the preseason, appeared to return to full practice Monday.
Fellow injured cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who also has sat out the last three weeks, still was limited in practice, but did conditioning drills in full uniform. Same with defensive end Jermaine Cunningham, who worked with a trainer in his uniform after not being present at practice the last three weeks.
And most important, tight end Rob Gronkowski was seen doing agility drills with a trainer for the first time all training camp, and looked smooth and relatively healthy as he returns from back surgery. Gronkowski, wearing shorts and a T-shirt, ran short sprints forward, backward, and sideways inside a group of cones, and also caught and threw passes with his trainer.
Gronkowski had surgery June 18 to repair a herniated disk in his back, and it is unclear when he will be ready to play in the regular season. The rehab for his surgery is generally about 12 weeks, which puts a potential return date right around the season opener.
Gronkowski reportedly is unlikely to play early in the season — after facing the Bills, the Patriots’ second game is against the Jets on a short week — but he could potentially be ready to play in Week 3 against the Buccaneers Sept. 22.
The Patriots have until 4 p.m. Saturday to decide whether or not to put Gronkowski on the physically unable to perform list. If they do, he would have to sit out the first six games. Even if he doesn’t go on the PUP list, he could still end up sitting out several games.
The Bills, meanwhile, could be in deep trouble when they face the Patriots in two weeks. With E.J. Manuel sidelined by knee surgery and Kevin Kolb dealing with a concussion, the Bills may have to start undrafted rookie quarterback Jeff Tuel.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Tuel would become the first undrafted rookie quarterback to start Week 1 since the modern draft era began in 1967. The Bills will also have to face the Patriots without talented cornerback Stephon Gilmore, last year’s first-round pick, who is out eight weeks with a fractured wrist.