FOXBORO -- With Rob Gronkowski expected to be out for an extended period of time with a broken forearm, all eyes are on fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez, who hasn't played since Week 7 against the Jets.
Hernandez is still battling an ankle injury which he suffered in the first quarter of a Week 2 loss to Arizona, forcing him to miss the next three games. But after returning for Week 6 in Seattle and Week 7 against the Jets, Hernandez hasn't suited up on Sunday.
Now that Gronkowski is out, the spotlight will be on Hernandez to see if he can be ready for Thursday night's game in New York.
"I'm feeling pretty good," said Hernandez inside the Patriots locker room on Monday night.
The Patriots did not practice on Monday, but Hernandez was listed as "limited" in a hypothetical practice report that, per NFL rules, must be released.
When asked if he would be ready to play on Thursday, Hernandez said, "We'll see."
He wasn't giving away much on Monday, and why would he? Hernandez spoke like a Patriot who knows exactly what has to happen next, if New England wants to have success.
They need to move on.
"Everyone has to step up and make plays, and follow the game plan," said Hernandez. "I'm sure we'll be alright.
"Obviously it's tough. Obviously he's one of the best players in the league. But, we have a lot of players, and everyone has to step up to fill the void. It puts pressure on everybody. Not just one player can just replace him. Everyone has to step up."
Doing so, is exactly what Bill Belichick has trained his players for. Be ready when you're called upon.
"The way this program is, the way Bill makes us become the players we become, we all have confidence and we all know we have to come to play every game, regardless," said Hernandez. "And in the NFL, people go down and other people have to step up.
"It'll change some things. Like I said, everyone will have to step up and whatever the change is, we have to make plays and fill that void we'll be missing."
As for whether the Patriots will be still missing Hernandez on Thursday night, is another question altogether.
"It's tough to watch," he said. "But hopefully I get back soon and help them out."