The Patriots’ other first-string tight end, Aaron Hernandez, has missed the last three games — and a total of six this season — after he sprained his right ankle in Week 2. He has 17 catches for 143 yards and two touchdowns in four games.
His playing status against the Jets might be “a game-time decision,” Belichick said. “I’d definitely put Aaron in the day-by-day category.”
The Patriots will have 10 days following Thanksgiving before they play again. And with a comfortable lead in the division standings, Hernandez would have extra time to recover if he doesn’t play Thursday.
“I think that a player’s availability for the game would be judged on its merits, period, for this game,” Belichick said. “Possibly if there were some overriding circumstances, which I can’t really think of, but I’m not saying it’s not a possibility.”
The other tight ends on the roster — Daniel Fells, Michael Hoomanawanui and Visanthe Shiancoe — have a total of four receptions. Shiancoe has played just two games since being activated off the injured reserve list. Fells was healthy but inactive and Shiancoe had no catches against the Colts.
“He gets better every time he goes on the field,” Belichick said of Shiancoe. “He has a chance to run the plays in our system, which he missed the majority of training camp being able to do that.”
Shiancoe is not unfamiliar with a starting role. In his 10th season in the league, Shiancoe came into his own as a Viking. After four ho-hum seasons with the Giants, Shiancoe made the most of his time with Minnesota, topping 500 yards receiving three times in five seasons.
In 2008-09 and 2009-10, in fact, he caught 18 total touchdown passes.