Wrapping up the night with a few thoughts on some of the team's comings and goings:
1. Shiancoe release & Gronkowski. One line of thinking is that the release of tight end Visanthe Shiancoe could be tied to the return of injured tight end Rob Gronkowski. The feeling here is that the two are independent of each other. Whenever Gronkowski returns -- whether it's this week or down the line -- I don't think there is any trickle-down effect on Shiancoe. It just didn't work out with Shiancoe as the Patriots envisioned it would, so there was no sense in prolonging things.
2. Gronkowski and his projected return. When Gronkowski broke his forearm Nov. 18 against the Colts, the initial expectation was that he wouldn't be back for about six weeks. So all along, Gronkowski figured in any playoff projection. As for possibly returning sooner if that was an option, Bill Belichick and his staff would obviously have to weigh the short-term vs. long-term benefits. The Patriots obviously are a better team with Gronkowski and he'd be great to have Sunday against the 49ers and their No. 1-ranked defense. But at the same time, the Patriots have won three in a row without him, there are bigger goals ahead, and Belichick often seems to lean toward the long-range view. Wednesday could tell us more if this is even on the radar at this point, as Patriots players return to work for the first practice leading into the 49ers game.
3. Tight end still deep. Even with the release of Shiancoe, the Patriots are still well-stocked at tight end with Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Michael Hoomanawanui and Daniel Fells. Add in fullback James Develin and that's a full house. Hoomanawanui took a leap up the depth chart on Monday, playing in the majority of 2-TE packages over Fells.
4. Two roster spots to fill. After releasing Shiancoe and placing receiver Donte' Stallworth on season-ending injured reserve Tuesday, the Patriots have two roster spots to fill. The expectation is that receiver Deion Branch will assume one, then the question becomes who gets the other. The Patriots could use another receiver and depth in the defensive backfield and interior defensive line bears watching as well.