Rob Gronkowski never had any doubt he’d be ready to play Sunday, but it still was a relief to be told by team doctors Thursday that he’d been cleared from the concussion protocol.
“One more opportunity to play the game I love to play,” Gronkowski said in his first official media availability this week. “I knew I was going to be playing the whole time, but I didn’t want to jump into it right away.”
It’s a huge deal for the Patriots to have their most dynamic pass-catcher back after he took a jarring hit in the AFC Championship Game. Gronkowski was flattened by Jaguars safety Barry Church just before the end of the first half and didn’t return. If the Super Bowl had been played last Sunday, Gronkowski wouldn’t have been available. But with the bye week, he’s back, and the Patriots are that much better heading into their matchup against the Eagles.
“When he’s out there playing for our team, he’s a great force, and it’s great when he’s playing at his top level,” quarterback Tom Brady said.
The moment is even sweeter for the 6-6, 260-pound tight end because he didn’t get the chance to play in last year’s Super Bowl after undergoing back surgery. The Patriots won without him — albeit barely — overcoming a 28-3 deficit to beat the Falcons, 34-28, in overtime. Not that Gronkowski didn’t enjoy watching his teammates win a fifth Super Bowl in seven tries in the Brady-Bill Belichick era.
“It was excellent for the boys,” said Gronkowski, who attended the game in Houston. “I loved it. It was great to be a part of it. But we’ve got the Eagles right now. We have to move on. I’ve moved on, and I’m preparing for the Philadelphia Eagles and the game on Sunday, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Either way, this is a big deal.
“It’s meaningful no matter what, if I played last year or if I didn’t play,” he said. “But if I did play, this game would mean just as much. Just treating it the same. Every time I get a chance to play in the Super Bowl, you have to cherish the moment to the max, no matter what.”
This will be Gronkowski’s third Super Bowl. He lost to the Giants after the 2011 season and beat the Seahawks after the 2014 season.
Gronkowski, 28, wasn’t the force in either Super Bowl that he has been during the regular season or even playoff games. In the 21-17 loss to the Giants six years ago, he had only two catches for 26 yards and no touchdowns. In the 28-24 win over the Seahawks, he was solid with six catches for 68 yards and a touchdown, but Julian Edelman was the star receiver with nine catches for 101 yards and a touchdown.
So yes, the Patriots have shown they can win without Gronkowski at his best — or without him, period. But if he has the dominant performance the Patriots hope for, he’ll make them that much more formidable.
Brady is counting on a signature performance. No matter what, he knows Gronkowski will put forth the unbridled passion for which he has been known throughout his career.
“I’ve known Rob since he got into the league and watched him grow as a person, as a player, as a teammate,” Brady said. “He’s an incredible guy. I just love my experience playing with him. He has a spirit about him that’s unmatched that no one can really duplicate. It’s very authentic who he is.”
Gronk is back.
A good day for the Patriots.
Not so much for the Eagles.
Rob Gronkowski will become the all-time leader for postseason receptions among tight ends if he has at least six catches on Sunday. The top five:
Dallas Clark, Indianapolis1264
Jay Novacek, Dallas1362
Shannon Sharpe, Den.-Balt.1862
Brent Jones, San Fran.2160
Rob Gronkowski, NE1259