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Patriots’ season opener might see fans return to Gillette Stadium for first time in 617 days

Related: Patriots to open 2021 season at home against Miami

Buffalo Bills v New England Patriots Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

The vaccination progress is steady, the number of new Covid-19 cases is dropping, and stadium capacity restrictions might soon get lifted as well. While things can always change quickly in a pandemic, there is now considerable optimism that the New England Patriots will be able to host fans again at Gillette Stadium this season.

If that is indeed the case, it would mean that the team’s regular season opener against the Miami Dolphins, which has been scheduled for September 12th, will be the first game played in front of a home crowd in almost two years.

In fact, 617 days will have passed.

With the Coronavirus pandemic hitting the nation two months after the Patriots’ wild card playoff loss versus the Tennessee Titans in January 2020, the team was forced to close its doors for fans. A full NFL season without spectators in the stands later, however, Gillette Stadium has recently been reopened: in April, the stadium welcomed over 7,000 fans to the New England Revolution’s home opener in the MLS.

That was only the beginning, though. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker also announced in late April that crowd sizes would increase from 12 percent to 25 percent, while August 1st was named as a tentative target date for lifting most Coronavirus-related restrictions. If all goes according to plan, the Patriots might therefore be able to welcome fans back this fall.

“As we move forward with this final step, we are committed to providing a safe and comfortable environment for any fan attending an event at Gillette Stadium and look forward to advancing our plans to fully reopen,” the stadium’s operators said in a statement shortly after Baker’s announcements.

While the Patriots were among those NFL teams that would not allow even a limited number of fans to their games last season, they still put their stadium to good use: Gillette Stadium was transformed into Massachusetts’ first mass-vaccination site. To date more than half a million Coronavirus vaccine doses have been administered.

As a result of those efforts and the loosened restrictions, the first game of the Mac Jones era — whether he starts it or not — will likely see fans in attendance again.