FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — With three games and a bye week under his belt, Rob Gronkowski is ready for anything in Monday night's game against the surging Carolina Panthers.
The New England Patriots tight end is ready for some extra blocking against a strong front seven, as much as he's prepared to run his routes, and catch passes. At this point, he just wants to play.
"Whatever the coaches have me doing," Gronkowski said Friday after practice. "I'm going to perform to the best of my ability."
Gronkowski missed the first six games of the season recovering from back and arm surgeries, but has caught 19 passes in three games. He returned with nine receptions vs. the New York Jets on Oct. 20.
"It's going well," he said, "and I just have to keep working hard and getting better."
The Patriots (7-2) and Panthers (6-3) have combined to win seven straight games.
It's no secret how important Gronkowski is to Tom Brady and the offense. His return –coinciding with that of slot receiver Danny Amendola — has helped the Patriots score 82 points in two games.
"I think Rob gives good balance to his position," coach Bill Belichick said. "He can block, he can run, he can catch. He gives us balance. He's a guy that whatever the play calls for, whatever we need to do, we feel like he has a pretty good opportunity to do it.
"That definitely helps us overall on the offense."
On Monday, he'll likely roam the middle of the field against Luke Kuechly, a standout linebacker from Carolina who has 239 tackles in less than two seasons since leaving Boston College.
"He's a great player," Gronkowski said. "You've got to be aware of Luke wherever he is. He can cover. He can play the run. Basically, he is very disruptive and he knows how to make plays.
"But they've got a lot of great players on defense."
NOTES: The Patriots released WR LaQuan Williams, after he signed on Nov. 5. Williams, 25, has played in 23 NFL games over the last two seasons and finished his New England stint with four receptions for 46 yards. … The Patriots are just 2-2 on the road.