The New England Patriots aren’t taking any unnecessary risks in the season finale. Tight end Rob Gronkowski and five other starters will be inactive as the team faces the Buffalo Bills for a 1 p.m. Sunday kickoff at Gillette Stadium.
Gronkowski, who has caught 82 passes for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns over 15 games, will have to wait until the divisional round of the playoffs to play in a 16th. After his 2013 was cut short with ACL and MCL tears suffered against the Cleveland Browns last December, resting the three-time Pro Bowler is something the top-seeded Patriots had the opportunity to do.
Also inactive for New England in Week 17 is running back Jonas Gray, wide receiver Julian Edelman, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, left guard Dan Connolly, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and cornerback Brandon Browner.
Gray was ruled out with an ankle injury on Friday, while fellow Patriots halfbacks LeGarrette Blount and Shane Vereen were ruled questionable to play with their respective ailments. In result, rookie fourth-round pick James White is active for the first time since Week 8 against the Chicago Bears and is in line to play in his third NFL game.
Edelman, who missed last week’s game due to a concussion and thigh injury, will have his regular season conclude just eight receptions and 28 yards short of his second consecutive 100-catch, 1,000-yard season. And with starting split end Brandon LaFell also limited in practice leading up to Sunday’s game against Buffalo, Josh Boyce will have a chance to play in his first game of the season after being promoted from the practice squad on Saturday.
The offensive line will be without Connolly and Vollmer, after the former missed Week 16 with a knee injury and the latter landed on the injury report with a back issue during the final session of this week.
New England’s defensive side of the ball, meanwhile, will be without Hightower and Browner due to shoulder and groin injuries. Both were listed as questionable to play, and their absences will likely see linebacker Jonathan Casillas, as well as Logan Ryan, Kyle Arrington and Malcolm Butler file into the linebacker and secondary rotations.
As for Buffalo, running back Bryce Brown, receiver Marquise Goodwin, tight end Chris Gragg, offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, linebacker Randell Johnson and cornerback Stephon Gilmore are also inactive.