FOXBORO, Mass. — Some leftover notes and nuggets from Thursday’s New England Patriots media availability at Gillette Stadium:
— Rob Gronkowski has made the Pittsburgh Steelers’ lives miserable throughout his Patriots career. He expects Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler to throw the kitchen sink at him when the Patriots visit Heinz Field on Sunday.
“I feel like they?ll throw a lot of things,” the tight end said. “I mean, I?ve seen a lot from them before — a lot of coverages, a lot of split-safety, post-safety, man, zone. They switch it up a lot, too. Like, a linebacker covered me one time, a safety or a corner. So, to tell you the truth, they actually mix it up a lot, and you?ve got to be prepared for it all, whatever coverage, whatever guy it is.”
In six career games against the Steelers, Gronkowski has 39 catches on 49 targets for 664 yards and eight touchdowns. He set a career high last December with 168 receiving yards on nine catches in a 27-24 Patriots victory.
“(It’s) just playing ball,” Gronkowski said. “Just going out and just doing what we?ve got to do, preparing throughout the week and going out and executing. Just executing plays, and that?s what we?ve got to keep on doing.”
Gronkowski had one of his best games of the season Sunday in Miami, catching eight passes on eight targets for 107 yards and a touchdown in a 34-33 loss to the Dolphins. The goal now is to maintain that level of play — something he has not been able to do consistently this season.
“You?ve got to keep on building from it,” Gronkowski said. “You just can?t have a good week and then stop from there. You?ve got to keep it going, you?ve got to keep it continuing, you?ve got to keep putting that work in. It?s a long season and it?s a new week every single week. So I’ve just been working on it, working hard, been going out to practice, doing what we have to do, and just want to keep on building from what you?ve got.”
— Gronkowski has taken at least four significant hits to the back and lower body over the last two games, but name has not appeared on the injury report this week — a positive sign after he missed multiple games with ankle and back ailments earlier in the season.
Just two players were listed on Thursday’s report — cornerback Stephon Gilmore (ankle) and tight end Dwayne Allen (knee) — both of whom were full participants at practice.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, safety Sean Davis and center Maurkice Pouncey all returned to practice for Pittsburgh after sitting out Wednesday’s session. Running back James Conner and offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert remained out.