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Patriots' Rob Gronkowski makes surprise preseason start vs. Texans

HOUSTON - In a surprise, the New England Patriots played tight end Rob Gronkowski in Saturday night's preseason game against the Houston Texans, which marked the first time Gronkowski played in a preseason game since 2012.

Gronkowski's lack of preseason action since 2012 was a combination of coach's decisions to limit exposure to injuries and Gronkowski rehabbing from injuries.

Based on that history, Gronkowski wasn't expected to suit up for Saturday's game. He was on the field for the team's five plays, but wasn't targeted with a catchable pass.

Gonkowski, now in his eighth season, had his 2016 season limited to just eight games after sustaining a back injury. He had back surgery in November, and by the start of the Patriots' offseason program in April he said he was 100 percent healthy. When training camp began on July 27, coach Bill Belichick said Gronkowski had no limits that he was aware of.

Gronkowski has caught 67 career touchdown passes from quarterback Tom Brady, which is the second highest total in NFL history for a quarterback/tight end combination behind only Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates (84). Brady also started Saturday night.