Pats TE Gronkowski appears closer to returning

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FOXBOROUGH, MASS. (AP) - Another week, another round of Gronk questions.

And another few days before it becomes clearer whether the New England Patriots star tight end might make his 2013 debut Sunday.

Rob Gronkowski has missed all five games while recovering from offseason surgeries on his left forearm and back. But he’s getting closer to playing and that could happen against the unbeaten New Orleans Saints on Sunday, which should help the Patriots struggling offense.

A person with knowledge of Gronkowski’s health says doctors haven’t cleared him to play yet and won’t know for a few days. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because no official announcement was made. Gronkowski participated in practice on a limited basis on Wednesday.

ProFootballTalk.com reported Tuesday that he is expected to be cleared to play this week and that it’s likely but not definite that he’ll play.

Gronkowski has been asked about his status on Wednesdays throughout the season. But he’s shed little light on when he might return, saying repeatedly he’s taking it “day by day.”

He skipped this week’s media availability Wednesday and was expected to speak Thursday.

Quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick also get peppered with questions about when Gronkowski will return but provide little insight.

“Whenever that happens, who knows?” Brady said Wednesday. “I feel like I’ve kind of talked about it a lot the past five weeks. If he is there, he’s there. If he’s not, he’s not. We’re going to try to win anyway.”

Belichick answered several questions about Gronkowski on Wednesday.

His response to three of them: “day to day.”

And how did he look in practice?

“He practiced,” Belichick said.

The interest in Gronkowski has intensified as Brady and the Patriots offense have been inconsistent. But the team is 4-1, so rushing Gronkowski back hasn’t been imperative. And the Patriots are still favorites to win the AFC East even though Miami (3-2) and the New York Jets (3-2) are off to decent starts.

That said, the Patriots are 24th in the NFL in scoring after leading the league last year. Brady is 22nd in passer rating after ranking sixth in 2012. So, clearly, Gronkowski, who has 187 catches in his 43 games with the Patriots, would help, especially in the red zone.

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