By Tim Graham
Rob Gronkowski was having an awful day before he left a mark on the Buffalo Bills.
Gronkowski, the New England Patriots tight end, had lost only the second fumble of his career Sunday and later had a potential touchdown reception detonated from his mitts by rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
Eventually, Gronkowski made his own fortune. While blocking on a run play late in the third quarter, he injured Bills safety Jairus Byrd, who had stripped Gronkowski in the second quarter.
"It was a kick-out play," Byrd recalled. "I was in the box. He tried to kick me out, but he led with his knee and hit me right in the hip. I grabbed my hip right away."
Byrd left the game for good. Moments later, his value to the defense was illustrated.
Tom Brady immediately exploited Byrd's absence, connecting with Gronkowski up the seam for an easy 28-yard touchdown that gave the Patriots the lead for good.
Byrd has been one of the Bills' best players, and he will be needed to defeat the heavily favored San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in Candlestick Park.
He missed Wednesday's practice, but was back on the field Thursday. He stayed after to catch passes from the Jugs machine. He moved around pretty well but occasionally showed frustration with the discomfort in his left hip.
Bills head coach Chan Gailey expressed optimism he would be fine for Sunday.
"It's getting there," Byrd said. "Hopefully, I'll be ready to go. [Pain] is there in certain movements and tells you to just 'Come on back.' But we've got some time, and the trainers have done a good job of getting me ready."
Byrd hasn't missed any games this year but has been on the injury report with a foot problem.
"You just try to make sure you're as mentally prepared as you can be," Byrd said. "The situation is going to be there. There's not much you can do about it. For me, what helps is my faith. I pray a lot. That's how I get through it."
Byrd's 30 tackles rank second for Buffalo. He has one tackle for a loss, one interception, two forced fumbles and a recovery.