Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski celebrates a touchdown with his...

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski celebrates a touchdown with his patented "Gronk Spike." (Dec. 4, 2011) Credit: Getty Images

The Patriots didn't announce it and the player didn't confirm it. But the Jets say they always expected it.

Gronk is back.


New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski could make his season debut against the Jets at MetLife Stadium Sunday. He is officially listed as "questionable," but Gronkowski's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said the pass-catching machine "has now been cleared by all his doctors to play Sunday in the Jets game."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick declined to shed any light on Gronkowski's status, and Gronkowski declined to speak to reporters. But the Jets have been preparing all week as if Tom Brady's favorite red-zone target is going to return from multiple surgeries on his forearm and a back procedure.

"Like we said from Day One, I assumed he'd play," Jets coach Rex Ryan said Friday. "I'm assuming Brady will play. But that's how much we assumed this guy was going to play. I don't know if they were saving him for us or whatever, but I had a funny feeling he was going to play. After that first game, I felt for sure he'd play against us the second game."

Gronkowski missed the Patriots' 13-10 victory over the Jets in Week 2, but he has tormented them in the past. In his previous three games against the Jets, the 6-6, 265-pounder had 21 catches for 222 yards and four touchdowns.

"He's 6-7 or whatever and he goes up and gets it," Ryan said. "We saw Tony Gonzalez have success against us just as he's had against New England and everyone else. Those guys are hard to cover. Even when you think you've got them covered, they're still open just because of their size and catching radius."

Gonzalez had 10 catches for 97 yards against the Jets in Week 5. But the Jets won the game in Atlanta, 30-28.

At least the Jets will have cornerbacks Kyle Wilson (concussion) and Dee Milliner (hamstring) healthy for Sunday's game. Both were OK'd to play after Friday's practice.

Of Gronkowski, Wilson said: "Just another target. He's big in certain parts of the field and in certain situations. What we've got to do is just everybody do their job. If your job is to cover him, be where he's supposed to be, and when the ball comes, just make the play."

Ryan used former Patriots tight end Zach Sudfeld as Gronkowski's stand-in this week in practice. Sudfeld, who is 6-6 and 255 pounds, was called "Baby Gronk" during his brief time in New England. The Patriots released him on Oct. 3 and the Jets signed him the next day.

"You obviously pick his brain," Ryan said.

Brady, who has been throwing to an inexperienced bunch of receivers, will welcome Gronkowski back if he plays. Injured wide receiver Danny Amendola, who was supposed to replace Wes Welker, will miss the game.

On Thursday, Gronkowski said: "It's going to be a great feeling, obviously . Just been working hard toward 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."

Notes & quotes: Mark Sanchez visited the Jets' facility but did not speak to the media . . . WR Santonio Holmes (hamstring) is out, as expected . . . Patriots CB Aqib Talib (hip) is listed as doubtful.

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