HOUSTON -- When Rob Gronkowski took the field with his teammates for Saturday's preseason matchup with the Texans, that came as no surprise. That he was wearing his large arm pad on his left arm? That was unexpected.
Gronkowski often dresses in full uniform for preseason games, but he hasn't taken a preseason snap since 2012. The arm pad typically stays in the locker room. That he had it on at NRG Stadium signalled that he'd be on the field for some exhibition work for the first time in five years.
Gronkowski started the game for the Patriots offense, as did Tom Brady, and played 15 snaps. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end was not targeted in the passing game, but he did help run off the Texans defense, clearing room for Rex Burkhead to take a dump-off 16 yards at the end of the first quarter.
That Gronkowski escaped unscathed is obviously good news for the Patriots, but the fact that he played at all may signal a slightly different approach for the team and its injury-prone tight end. Gronkowski saw plenty of work in joint practices against the Texans at the Greenbrier in West Virginia, but Bill Belichick and his staff obviously thought some work in a game situation would be good for him.
Brady played 17 snaps and completed 6-of-9 passes for 67 yards and a touchdown to Burkhead. Brady was drilled by Ufomba Kamalu -- someone who may be on the Patriots radar after Kamalu had a good two-day stretch of joint practices -- but found Burkhead for a 22-yard score five plays later.