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Despite fully participating in another week of practices, the New England Patriots don’t expect tight end Rob Gronkowski to play Sunday against the undefeated New Orleans Saints, league sources told ESPN’s Ed Werder on Friday.
Gronkowski, recovering after a series of surgeries on his fractured forearm and ailing back, still has not been cleared to play by Dr. James Andrews, according to ESPN and media reports.
In the team’s Friday injury report, Gronkowski is listed as questionable for Sunday. He practiced on a limited basis Friday, the same designation he has had for every practice since Week 1. He has not played since reinjuring his wrist in an AFC divisional playoff game against the Houston Texans in January.
Andrews is serving as an independent physician charged by the team and player with determining whether Gronkowski is cleared to play. He is considered the most accomplished orthopedic surgeon in the world, but he did not operate on Gronkowski.
Gronkowski also has not been cleared by Dr. Jesse Jupiter, who performed the latest forearm surgery, sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter and Werder.
Members of the tight end’s inner circle would like to ensure that he is fully healthy before making a return to the field, while those who have watched him in recent practices — during which Gronkowski has even been tackled — don’t understand why he has yet to play in a game, sources previously said.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked Friday about his confidence in the team’s medical staff.
“As it relates our medical people, we have confidence in all of them,” Belichick said. “They do a good job.”
On Thursday, Gronkowski said his status remained day to day.
“It’s basically nothing new,” he said. “I mean, I’m just working hard every week, working hard out at practice, and nothing’s changed, we’re day by day, like we’ve been from the very beginning.”
Asked what he and doctors need to see to know that he is ready to return to the field, Gronkowski replied, “[I’m] really just taking it each day at a time and just trying to improve each day at a time. And that’s all.”
On Wednesday, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said that he’s not riding the emotional roller coaster attached to speculating on Gronkowski’s return date.
“We’ve kind of talked about it a lot the last five weeks,” Brady said. “If he’s there, he’s there. If he’s not, he’s not. We’re going to try to go win anyway.”
Brady’s comments came on the heels of remarks by Belichick, who repeated that Gronkowski’s status is day to day without elaborating.
The Patriots’ offense has struggled, and it was never more apparent than during a 13-6 loss in Week 5 to the Cincinnati Bengals. With Gronkowski’s absence, perhaps no areas have been affected more than the Patriots’ third-down and red-zone offenses, as the team ranks 17th and 31st, respectively, a season after leading the league in both.
A return by Gronkowski on Sunday would have been a boon to the offense as the Patriots (4-1) prepare to host the high-powered Saints (5-0).
The team’s top tight end is eagerly anticipating his season debut.
“It’s going to be a great feeling, obviously,” Gronkowski said of his eventual return. “[I’ve] just been working hard towards that goal and working hard every day to achieve that. It’s going to be exciting, and when it happens, it’s going to be awesome.”
ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, ESPN’s Ed Werder and ESPNBoston.com’s Field Yates contributed to this report.