FOXBORO — Another day, another failed attempt to gain any sort of prediction from Bill Belichick as to whether Rob Gronkowski could make his long-awaited return to the Patriots this Sunday night in Atlanta.

FOXBORO — Sebastian Vollmer and Matthew Slater were the only players missing from Patriots practice Wednesday morning on the grass fields outside Gillette Stadium.

The team practiced in full pads as they prepare for the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday night at the Georgia Dome.

Slater is out 4-6 weeks after breaking his wrist in the Sept. 12 game against the Jets while Vollmer appeared to injure his foot in the first half of Sunday’s win over Tampa Bay.

FOXBORO — The Patriots aren’t facing Peyton Manning this week but ask defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and he’ll tell you they’re up against another quarterback who can beat you with his brain alone if you’re not prepared.

With three games in the books, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of how the 2013 Patriots are coming together -- even without some of the most important faces on the offensive side of the ball. To that end, here are a few numbers that give us a better idea of the identity of this team, and some statistical trends worth watching as they go forward.



FOXBORO — Rob Gronkowski could finally make his 2013 debut this coming Sunday night in Atlanta against the Falcons.

The prevailing sentiment has been that the Patriots were keeping him out of game action until they really needed him. It would appear with the Falcons starting a stretch of games against more difficult competition on paper, this would be the right time to activate him.

But don’t look to Patriots coach Bill Belichick to commit one away or another.

Linebacker Rob Ninkovich, fresh off agreeing to a three-year contract extension worth a reported $15 million, joined Mut & Merloni a day after Sunday’s 23-3 rout of the Buccaneers.

“I’m happy to be here, happy to stick around,” he said. “The Kraft family and my family worked out to where it worked well for both sides. I’m happy to be here for the next four years now.”

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, during his weekly appearance on Dennis & Callahan on Monday morning to recap Sunday’s 23-3 victory over the Buccaneers, talked about how he dealt with criticism directed at him for his behavior toward his struggling receivers in the team’s previous game.

Brady was questioned by some media members locally and nationally for his display in the win over the Jets, when he yelled at his young receivers.

There's a new team playing football at Gillette. The uniforms are the same. Many of the names are familiar. But the style doesn't look anything like what the the locals have become accustomed to seeing. At least not for a while.



MIKE SALK

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FOXBORO -- Kenbrell Thompkins was looking to beat press coverage.



FOXBORO — It was hardly a breakout game for Tom Brady but after the way things went in Week 2 against the Jets and the first quarter Sunday, he will take Sunday’s 23-3 win over Tampa Bay as a step in the right direction.