By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — A big surprise came out of Foxboro on Tuesday evening when the Patriots announced Donte Stallworth was placed on injured reserve just a day after scoring a 63-yard touchdown against the Houston Texans. But there was another bit of news included in that release that is sure to prove rather intriguing over the course of the next few days.

That news was that the team released veteran tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. The 32-year-0ld didn’t register any stats and didn’t become a contributing member of the offense after being activated before the Buffalo game four weeks ago, so it’s not as if the team is cutting loose a critical player.

However, the immediate reaction of many who saw the news was the same: “Rob Gronkowski is ready to come back!”

Gronkowski, of course, broke his forearm against the Colts four weeks ago, and the timetable for recovery was four weeks on the early end and eight weeks on the long side. It’s been made pretty clear over the past three years that Gronkowski is physically unlike most humans, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he makes a speedy recovery on an injury that may keep a mere mortal out for much longer.

However, the release of Shiancoe does not necessarily have anything to do with Gronkowski at all. So it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Gronkowski returns Sunday against the 49ers, when the Patriots may really need him, but taking the Shiancoe release as an indication that Gronkowski is ready would be a misuse of the Jump To Conclusions Mat.

We’ll learn more as the week goes on, and if Gronkowski is at practice, that will obviously be a good sign. Don’t expect too many updates from the head coach, who generally would rather share with you his deepest, darkest secrets than disclose any injury information regarding any player, let alone a superstar tight end.

At the same time, don’t expect the Patriots to rush Gronkowski back if there’s a chance of re-injuring the arm. Aaron Hernandez’s high ankle was a very different injury, but the team got burned by bringing him back before the injury had healed properly, and they ended up losing him for several more weeks. With just three games before the start of the playoffs, the Patriots could hardly afford a repeat to happen with Gronkowski, who is still tied for the league lead with 10 touchdowns despite missing the past three games.

And while Sunday night’s game against 9-3 San Francisco is a huge one, don’t forget that the final two teams on the Patriots’ schedule are the 2-11 Jaguars and 5-8 Dolphins, so it would take a minor miracle for the Patriots to finish any worse than 12-4, with or without Gronkowski.

Either way, buckle up, because for the next four days, the Rob Gronkowski speculation period is officially upon us.


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