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Setting the scene: Patriots-49ers

12.16.12 at 4:19 pm ET

FOXBORO — With the backdrop of a national tragedy just 150 miles away, the Patriots will play the 49ers in a Sunday night football game that will close out a two-game homestand that was anticipated since the NFL schedule was released in April.

The forecast calls for much colder temperatures than Monday night when the Patriots beat up the Texans, 42-14, at Gillette Stadium.

Cloudy skies and temperatures in the low-to-mid 30s are expected, with the chance of light precipitation throughout the evening.

Before the game, the Patriots will hold a moment of silence for the Newtown, Conn. victims, as has been the case throughout the NFL today. The team will then fire off 26 flares in tribute to the 20 children and six adults who were murdered in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre on Friday morning.

The 10-3 Patriots will then try to get on with the business of winning a game that has become more critical to them after the results earlier in the day.

Both Houston and Denver won their games Sunday, with the Texans bouncing back with a 29-17 win over the Colts that clinched the AFC South and improved their record to 12-2. The Broncos went into Baltimore and handled the Ravens, 34-14 to improve to 11-3. The Patriots must now beat the 49ers to hold onto their No. 2 position in the AFC, which will give them a first-round bye.

If they lose, the Patriots must win their last two games and hope to finish in a tie with the Broncos and/or the Texans to get a first-round bye.

The Patriots may or may not have the services of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who practiced on Friday for the first time since suffering a broken left forearm in the 59-28 win over the Colts on Nov. 18. Gronkowski was listed as “limited” in Friday’s practice inside Gillette Stadium and was one of 19 players listed as “questionable” for the game. Gronkowski has missed three games and various reports indicate that the Patriots are leaning toward him sitting out the final three games to rest for the playoffs.

The Patriots have scored over 40 points twice in their three wins since his injury and are averaging 38 points without him in the lineup.

The 49ers have ruled out receiver Mario Manningham, who is missing his second straight game with a shoulder injury.



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