FOXBOROUGH — NFL games being played Sunday featured pre-game tributes to the victims of Friday’s tragedy in Newtown, Conn., but the Patriots are the only league team in New England, and added a special touch to their moment of silence.
High above Gillette Stadium, 26 white flares were launched moments before kickoff, one for each of the people shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Images on the stadium’s video screens showed poignant scenes from Newtown, and a few signs of support made by fans inside Gillette.
The Patriots also wore decals on their helmets during the game honoring the Newtown community. The on-field musket men, long a staple at Patriots’ home games, did not fire their guns after the home team scored, as is their usual custom.
Early in the first quarter, Ch. 7 left the game coverage for approximately 20 minutes to air President Obama’s speech from Newtown. The game was switched to NBC Sports Network during Obama’s speech.
Praise for Moss
Former Patriots receiver Randy Moss necessitated a trade in 2010 by expressing displeasure with his contract status. Moss learned the hard way that the grass isn’t always greener outside of Foxborough.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft — Moss’s former boss — and Moss have remained close, though.
“He’s been terrific. He visited me when Myra passed away,” Kraft said late last week. “He flew up and came to the house. I’m a big fan of his. I’ll definitely look to see him.”
Kraft was asked if he thought Moss, who said before the game that he still has “love and respect for the New England Patriots,” regretted leaving. “We all grow and learn. One thing I’ve learned not to do is not to sit and judge anyone,” said Kraft. “You go through things. I have gone through the passing of [my wife] Myra. It’s hard for anyone to understand what happens to you, what your life is like. I don’t know how certain young people have grown up, the environment they were in and what their needs are. I think it’s dynamic, and it changes. I think when players are more experienced and older and experience different things they might find our environment more compelling to come to.”
Moss’s 24-yard touchdown catch early in the first quarter gave the veteran 15,233 receiving yards, passing Isaac Bruce for third place in NFL history. He finished with two catches for 36 yards, and ran off the field without interacting with any of his former teammates.
Despite practicing Friday, tight end Rob Gronkowski was one of the Patriots’ inactives, a list that needed only six names because the active roster was still one player short of the 53-man maximum.
Gronkowski hadn’t practiced since undergoing surgery Nov. 19 for a broken forearm, suffered a day earlier in a blowout home win over Indianapolis.
He was projected to miss 4-8 weeks, so playing against the 49ers would have exceeded the best-case scenario.
Also inactive for the Patriots: linebacker Tracy White, who missed four games with a foot injury and had been listed on the injury report with an elbow injury; safety Derrick Martin; (third straight inactive); defensive linemen Jake Bequette and Ron Brace; and offensive lineman Markus Zusevics.
Receiver Mario Manningham, who missed Friday’s practice with a shoulder injury and was downgraded to out on Saturday, was the most prominent of the 49ers’ inactives.
Welker makes mark
It took longer than most games — midway through the third quarter — but Wes Welker extended his streak of regular-season games with at least one reception to 108, then caught four more to play his way into the NFL record book.
Welker finished with five catches, the exact number he needed to reach 100 for the season. That gave Welker five 100-catch seasons, breaking the league record he shared with Jerry Rice, Marvin Harrison, and Brandon Marshall.
Dennard dinged up
Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard left the game late in the second quarter with a left knee injury. Dennard was blocked low, from the front, by 49ers fullback Bruce Miller. He came back to the sidelines in the third quarter, but did not play . . . Linebacker Mike Rivera, who earned his first start of the season, left with an ankle injury.
With the Broncos and Texans winning Sunday, the Patriots lost a chance to retain the No. 2 spot in the AFC playoff picture. At 10-4, the Patriots are two games behind Houston, and one behind Denver. They beat both teams, and thus own the head-to-head tiebreaker over both. But the loss to the 49ers dropped the Patriots into the No. 3 slot in the projected AFC playoff bracket. The top two teams receive first-round byes . . . Mike Haynes, Andre Tippett, and Curtis Martin served as honorary captains, and were recognized before the game by the Patriots on the field, paired with their busts from the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which had been on loan from Canton, Ohio . . . The Patriots forced two turnovers — a fumble recovery by Aqib Talib, and an end-zone interception by Devin McCourty — to push their streak to 25 games with at least one takeaway . . . A fan fell from the stands and was taken to an area hospital. Patriots spokesman Stacey James said the fan was alert and awake when he left via ambulance. No further information about the fan’s identity or condition was immediately available. James said the fan fell into the tunnel where the visiting team leaves the field.