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After all, this season, New England tight ends have five receptions _ total.

“When you get down in the red zone, you want to score a touchdown,” rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins said. “You don’t want to score three points. Sometimes when you score three points, it can hurt you and, unfortunately, that’s what cost us in the Cincinnati game.”

The Patriots reached the red zone just once in last Sunday’s 13-6 loss to the Bengals but settled for a field goal after getting a first down at the 1-yard line.

“Whoever is out there, whatever personnel, every play is designed to make positive yards, and a lot of them are designed to score touchdowns,” Brady said. “But they don’t always do that, so we’re trying to figure out how to do that and do better than what we’ve done the first five weeks.”

The 6-foot-6 Gronkowski could make a huge difference with his strong hands, ability to shield the ball from defenders and skill at reaching for passes with his long arms.

The Patriots didn’t put him on the physically unable to perform list at the start of the season. That would have required him to miss the first six games and barred him from practice.

He hasn’t missed a practice since the season began and could be back for the sixth game on Sunday. He was listed as questionable for the past three games after being doubtful for the previous two. The final injury report comes out after Friday’s practice.

“He’s a beast, man. I can’t wait to see him, whenever he gets backs,” receiver Aaron Dobson said. “Being out there practicing with him kind of gives you a feel of being out there but in a game … it could be different.”

Gronkowski is also a quality safety valve, a player Brady can dump the ball off to when pressured.

“He’s got a lot of excitement and brings a lot of energy to the team. He’s a great player,” Brady said. “I’m just kind of waiting like everyone else. Whenever it is, it is. We’re 4-1. We’ve won four games without him. If he is not there this week, we’ve got to try to go 5-1 anyway.

“Hopefully, when he does get back out there, we will be more productive.”

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