FOXBORO – (Staff and Wire Service Report – Special to Digital Sports Desk) – Tom Brady is back at work and the All-Pro quarterback of the New England Patriots was not the only one returning from a four-game suspension.
“Obviously it’s exciting getting Tom back,” said Brady’s favorite target, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who missed two games with a hamstring injury and has only one reception this season.
Brady sat out the first four games of the regular season for his role in what the NFL alleged was intentionally deflating game-used footballs during the 2015 AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts. Commissioner Roger Goodell said during the 21-month off-field battle that Brady’s actions that day and during the investigation of pregame practices by the Patriots’ equipment staff led the league office to act in protection of “the shield.”
The Patriots were 3-1 using backups Jimmy Garoppolo (2-0) and Jacoby Brissett (1-1) at quarterback.
Not all suspensions are created equally, but many other top-paid performers are due back this week.
Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus rejoins the team this week at Los Angeles. The Bills’ highest-paid player should bring energy and impact — if he’s in shape — to a defense riding high off of a shutout of the Patriots at Foxborough in Week 4 and another stellar showing the week prior against the Arizona Cardinals.
Dareus was banned four games for a repeat violation of the NFL’s drug policy.
Le’Veon Bell returned to the Steelers on Sunday night and the Pro Bowl running back made his presence felt in Pittsburgh’s landslide victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. Bell rang up 178 total yards Sunday night and the Chiefs struggled to bring him down with one defender on repeated occasions in a 43-14 loss.
“He’s ‘The Juice,'” All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown said of Bell’s game Sunday. “He’s the No. 1 back I feel like in the league and, just having his presence out there, any given time you can see him take it to the house.”
Bell, suspended for a second marijuana-related violation, was also making his first regular-season appearance since tearing the MCL and PCL in his right knee last season, an injury caused by a Vontaze Burfict tackle. Burfict also debuted in Week 4 with the Bengals. The linebacker was suspended for repeat violations of the player safety rules.
Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant was banned for the entire 2016 season for a violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.
Brady’s teammate, outside linebacker, Rob Ninkovich, is due back Monday from his own four-game suspension. He was suspended for testing positive for a banned substance, and the announcement of his absence came just days before the regular-season opener.
Former Pro Bowl wide receiver Josh Gordon is eligible to return to the Cleveland Browns from his latest suspension but he will not be on the field when the Patriots visit on Sunday. Gordon announced last week he was checking into a rehab facility. Browns outside linebacker Armonty Bryant was eligible to return from suspension Monday, but Cleveland placed him on waivers.
Defensive end Demarcus Lawrence is scheduled to return Monday to the Dallas Cowboys, who began the season without their top two pass rushers — Lawrence and Randy Gregory, who is out 14 games for separate violations.
“I can’t wait,” Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said of Lawrence. “It will be fun to get him working and keep improving each week.”
Lawrence led the Cowboys with 31 quarterback pressures last season.
Among other players returning from four-game suspensions this week are Colts defensive lineman Arthur Jones, Falcons cornerback Jalen Collins, Jaguars defensive back Aaron Colvin and Packers defensive lineman Mike Pennel.
Ravens tight end Nick Boyle is serving a 10-game suspension after a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs.
Free agent quarterback Johnny Manziel, released by the Browns in March, was suspended four games for violating the substance-abuse policy. He might not be back at all.