The long wait for Rob Gronkowski's 2013 debut appears over.
The New England Patriots star tight end "has now been cleared by all his doctors to play Sunday in the Jets game," Drew Rosenhaus, his agent, said Friday.
Gronkowski's return would be very good news for the Patriots, who have struggled on offence, and bad news for the New York Jets, who would have to find a way to stop the two-time Pro Bowl standout. He was questionable on the Patriots' injury report Friday for the fifth straight week, meaning they list his chances of playing Sunday at 50-50.
Gronkowski had off-season surgery on his back and broken left forearm. But he participated in every practice on a limited basis since the season began, and has watched as the Patriots opened 5-1.
His status for each game has drawn plenty of attention, with reporters surrounding his locker for his weekly media availability. He had shed little light on that, often saying he was taking it "day by day" and was eager to resume playing.
Approached after practice Friday to comment on his status against the Jets (3-3), Gronkowski joked, "Ask Matt," as he looked at tight end Matthew Mulligan at a nearby locker. A Patriots official said Gronkowski already had fulfilled his media obligations for the week and wouldn't answer questions.
Gronkowski had told reporters on Thursday that "I'm just improving every week. That's all. Like I said, nothing has changed."
The Patriots are 14th in the NFL in average yards gained and 22nd in points per game. They led the league in both categories last season then didn't re-sign their top two wide receivers, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd. They cut tight end Aaron Hernandez after he was arrested and before he was charged with first-degree murder. He pleaded not guilty to that charge and five weapons-related charges and is being held without bail.
The 6-foot-6 Gronkowski is a huge, reliable target. He has 187 catches in his 43 games with the Patriots and set NFL records in 2011 for tight ends with 1,327 yards receiving and 18 touchdowns. He also is outstanding in the red zone, an area where the Patriots have struggled.
They rank 30th in the NFL with nine touchdowns on 22 trips inside the 20-yard line after leading the league last season.
Gronkowski's return would be a departure from the team's recent trend of losing key players.
Linebacker Jerod Mayo, the NFL's leading tackler since 2010, went on season-ending injured reserve Wednesday after having surgery for a torn chest muscle sustained in last Sunday's 30-27 win over the New Orleans Saints. Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, a five-time Pro Bowler, also is on the list. They were the team's defensive co-captains. On Friday, the Patriots named defensive end Rob Ninkovich and defensive back Devin McCourty to those positions.
The other starting defensive tackle, Tommy Kelly, will miss his second straight game with a knee injury. Wide receiver Danny Amendola also is listed as out with a concussion and groin injury. Star cornerback Aqib Talib returned to practice Friday but is doubtful after hurting his hip against the Saints. Running back Leon Washington, who has played a limited role, is out with an ankle injury.