FOXBORO -- After one of the most physical games of his three-year career, Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes had to pay for one of the hits that made his game so successful on Sunday against the Bills.

The NFL fined Spikes $21,000 for his hit on Bills tight end Scott Chander in the fourth quarter as Devin McCourty was returning an interception deep into Buffalo territory. The NFL ruled the hit - which left Chandler momentarily dazed - was "unnecessary" and dangerous. 

FOXBORO -- Tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski are among 12 Patriots officially listed as questionable while receiver Julian Edelman (left hand) and safety Steve Gregory (hip) have been ruled out for Sunday's game against the Broncos. 

Hernandez was at practice for a second straight day on Friday, both in sweats and shells. He has missed two games since spraining his right ankle against the Cardinals in the first quarter on Sept. 16.

Peter King of Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports joined Mut & Merloni to talk about Sunday's Patriots-Broncos matchup and other NFL news.

Peyton Manning continues his comeback tour when he brings the Broncos to Foxboro this weekend. King said Manning might not be the same as he was pre-injury, but he's not that far off.

FOXBORO -- One day after returning to the field, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui was not spotted at the start of Patriots practice in shells on Friday on the main Gillette Stadium field. 

Hoomanawanui sustained a concussion on Sunday, forcing him to miss practice on Wednesday. He returned Thursday before not being seen Friday during the media portion of practice. 

FOXBORO -- After straining his left hamstring in the first half against the Bills and missing the second half, rookie inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower returned to practice on Thursday and Friday and proclaimed himself a "game-time" decision for Sunday against the Broncos. 

"Right now, it's going to be a day-to-day thing," Hightower said. "It's going to be up to [trainer Jim Whalen] and coach Belichick. But, each day, I'm getting better, feeling better and moving around great. So, it's going to be a game-time decision. It's going to be up to them.

Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty joined Mut & Merloni on Friday to discuss the team's outlook heading into Sunday's game against Peyton Manning and the Broncos.

McCourty has come under fire for his struggles early this season. He acknowledged being aware of the widespread criticism.

FOXBORO -- It’s a small sample size, but it appears the Patriots may have found their next great undrafted gem in Brandon Bolden. 



FOXBORO -- Tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski were at practice for the first time this week on Thursday, but both Hernandez (ankle) and Gronkowski (hip) were both limited in their activity. The two tight ends were among the 13 players who were limited, a group that included quarterback Tom Brady (right shoulder) for the second consecutive day as the Patriots continued preparing to meet the Broncos Sunday at Gillette Stadium. Here's the complete report:

 

Did Not Practice

FOXBORO -- In an indication that he has made stunning progress from a right ankle sprain, tight end Aaron Hernandez returned to Patriots practice on Thursday afternoon, as the team practice in sweats and shells outside Gillette Stadium. 

Hernandez hasn't practiced with the team since getting injured in the first quarter of New England's 20-18 loss to the Cardinals at Gillette on Sept. 16. 

Rob Gronkowski (hip) and Michael Hoomanawanui (concussion), both absent on Wednesday, returned to practice on Thursday as well. 

FOXBORO -- After collecting three sacks and five quarterback hits in his first four NFL games, Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones was honored Thursday as NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for September. 

Jones broke onto the scene in his first game, with a strip-sack of Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker, causing a fumble that was recovered by fellow rookie Dont'a Hightower and returned six yards for a touchdown in New England's 34-13 win.