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 27-23 loss to the Texans, which marked the first time Gronkowski had seen action in a preseason game since 2012.

Gronkowski's lack of preseason play 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.

Instead, he was on the field for 14 of the team's first 16 plays, but he finished with no catches and no targeted passes.

Gronkowski, now in his eighth season, had his 2016 regular 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, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Gronkowski had no limits that he was aware of.

"It felt good to be out there, get my feet wet, to get the speed of the game. I love to play football," Gronkowski said.

Although Gronkowski usually doesn't play in the preseason, he said that he prepares to get the call in any game.

"For him to go out there, and all of training camp, he's building so much confidence. I'm proud of him, so we just have to keep it going," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said of Gronkowski.

Gronkowski has caught 67 career touchdown passes from 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 in Houston, playing for two drives and completing 6 of 9 passes with 67 yards and one touchdown.