ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd is eager to put the criticism and scrutiny behind now that he's finally ready to play.
With both feet healthy and after getting the green light from coach Doug Marrone, the two-time Pro Bowl player is ready make his season debut Sunday, when Buffalo (2-3) hosts Cincinnati (3-2).
It'll mark the long-awaited start to Byrd's season after having his motives questioned during an offseason-long contract dispute. He raised further doubts about his desire to play in Buffalo after missing the first five games with plantar fasciitis in both feet.
"Mentally, that's over with. We've just got to win games now," Byrd said after practice Wednesday. "This is all I've wanted from Day 1. A lot of people didn't believe me. But now we're here, and now I finally get to go play. And I'm excited."
As for those who doubted his intentions and severity of his injury, Byrd held no grudges.
"They're entitled to their own opinion," Byrd said. "I understand why they would be upset."
And he doesn't see himself as having anything to prove to anyone.
"I'm not trying to win them back over," Byrd said. "I'm just trying to go out there and play my game and do what we can do to win games for these guys in this locker room who have played hard."
Byrd's back, and suddenly the veil of uncertainty that has hung over his status can finally start being lifted. He has been the focus of attention since March 1, when the Bills applied the franchise tag to prevent Byrd from becoming a free agent.
Though the move allowed Buffalo to retain the player's rights, the two sides became involved in a standoff that wasn't settled until Byrd finally accepted his one-year $6.9 million contact on Aug. 21. The scrutiny didn't end there after Byrd was sidelined by an injury that had been bothering him since last season.
"I'm completely confident in myself, and I knew where I stand with my character," Byrd said. "What another person says about me isn't going to change who I am."
The 2009 second-round draft pick out of Oregon is a hard-hitting safety, who is solid against the run and has great range in defending the pass.
Byrd enjoyed a breakout season as a rookie, when he finished tied for the NFL lead with nine interceptions — a rookie franchise record. And he's coming off a solid campaign last year, when Byrd led the Bills with five interceptions and four forced fumbles. Overall, he has 18 interceptions, 10 forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and scored two touchdowns in four seasons.
New England tight end Rob Gronkowski has missed all five games while recovering from offseason surgeries on his left forearm and back. But he's getting closer to playing and that could happen against the unbeaten New Orleans Saints on Sunday, which should help the Patriots struggling offense.
A person with knowledge of Gronkowski's health says doctors haven't cleared him to play yet and won't know for a few days. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because no official announcement was made. Gronkowski participated in practice on a limited basis on Wednesday.
ProFootballTalk.com reported Tuesday that he is expected to be cleared to play this week and that it's likely but not definite that he'll play.
Gronkowski has been asked about his status on Wednesdays throughout the season. But he's shed little light on when he might return, saying repeatedly he's taking it "day by day."