Hernandez: 'Everyone has to step up'

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez said on Monday that he has exchanged text messages with Rob Gronkowski since the fellow third-year player broke his forearm on Sunday evening against the Colts, and that the entire Patriots offense must step up in order to fill the void left by Gronkowski.

"Obviously, it's tough," Hernandez said of Gronkowski's injury. "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."

Hernandez also said that he believes there will be some changes within the Patriots offense.

"Whatever the change is, we've just got to make plays and fill that void that we're going to be missing," Hernandez said.

Hernandez continues to be bothered by a severe ankle sprain he suffered in Week 2 against the Arizona Cardinals. He returned briefly for two games, but hasn't played since Oct. 21 against the New York Jets. Belichick said Monday that a decision on whether Hernandez will be available for Thursday night's game will be made later in the week.

And while Hernandez said that Gronkowski's injury puts pressure on him and his teammates to step up, the tight end group remains confident in its abilities.

"The way this program is, the way [coach] Bill [Belichick] makes us become the players that we become is we all have confidence and we all know we have to come to play every game regardless," Hernandez said. "And in the NFL, people go down and other people have to step up."

Defensive end Rob Ninkovich echoed Hernandez's message, stressing that injuries are a part of football and it's imperative that the team find ways to deal with Gronkowski's absence.

"He's going to do his best to get back as fast as possible," Ninkovich said. "That's the way football goes sometimes, you've just to got to deal with that and move on, and whenever he's back, he's back."

Ninkovich added that he didn't believe it was a mistake that Gronkowski was in the game at the time of the injury.

"That's football, you're playing football [for] quarters, and that's the way things go," he said. "You can't really second guess anything, that's just the way football is. People get hurt. You've just got to deal with it."