FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- While the New England Patriots entered Thursday night's game against the Houston Texans with rookie Jacoby Brissett as their starting quarterback, they were boosted by the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Brissett became the first rookie quarterback to start for the Patriots since Drew Bledsoe in 1993.
Gronkowski initially injured his hamstring on Aug. 15 in a joint practice with the Chicago Bears. He had returned to practice on a limited basis Aug. 24, and has been limited since. On Tuesday, he said he was feeling "decent" before adding, "Obviously you just don't wake up and you're 100 percent, but I'm satisfied with the improvements."
He noted that his game status would be a "coach's decision, a trainer's decision" and that "we'll all come together."
Gronkowski has roster bonuses in his contract that earn him $31,250 per game that he is active. In his absence the first two games, Martellus Bennett played 149 of a possible 151 offensive snaps. The Patriots have planned to pair Gronkowski and Bennett as a one-two combo that they hope creates matchup issues for opponents.
Meanwhile, at quarterback, the Patriots don't have Garoppolo in uniform Thursday.
Garoppolo, who sprained the AC joint in his right throwing shoulder on Sunday, was officially listed as inactive for the game.
That leaves the club with just Brissett at quarterback on its roster. The third-round draft pick from NC State replaced Garoppolo in Sunday's win over the Miami Dolphins and has worked as the starter in the days leading up to Thursday's game.
When Bledsoe started in 1993, he was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, the Patriots' head coach was Bill Parcells, James Orthwein was the team's owner, and the team played its games at the old Foxboro Stadium. As it turns out, Brissett counts Parcells as one of his mentors as he grew up nearby his residence in Florida.
Julian Edelman, who played quarterback at Kent State before the Patriots switched him to receiver in 2009 after drafting him in the seventh round, would likely be the team's top emergency option. Texans coach Bill O'Brien said earlier this week that he remembers Edelman working at quarterback at times in practice during O'Brien's tenure as a Patriots assistant.
Patriots linebacker and defensive signal caller Dont'a Hightower was also inactive for the second straight game. Hightower hurt his knee in the team's season opener.