From the start, though, it was apparent Gronkowski simply wasn't the same guy. During the Patriots' 21-17 loss to the Giants, Gronkowski was held to two receptions for 26 yards, which was his second-lowest output of the entire season. (He had one catch for 15 yards against the Raiders in Week 4.)
Both of Gronkowski's ankles were heavily taped, likely to mask a brace he was almost certainly wearing to protect the injured left ankle. Yet Gronkowski played coy about the ailment.
"I was good," Gronkowski said. "I was 100 percent out there doing everything they asked me to do."
At first glance, there didn't seem to be any points when Gronkowski was noticeably limping. However, he lacked some explosion and only made one big play — a 20-yard catch during the Patriots' first touchdown drive — which is low by his standards.
Gronkowski played a few fewer snaps than usual, and the Patriots limited his reps in a three-point stance tight to the line to help him avoid hard contact from defensive linemen and linebackers.
At the very least, Gronkowski's presence forced the Giants to account for him. Earlier in the week, Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said they were preparing as though Gronkowski would play. After the game, some Giants noted they had two separate game plans depending on Gronkowski's availability.
"He still did a great job," tight end Aaron Hernandez said. "Even though he had that hurt ankle, he played through it, and he still had a good game for us."
Wide receiver Deion Branch's reaction to Gronkowski's performance was the most revealing of the team's thoughts on how difficult it was for him to tough it out.
"With the role he did play, I tilt my hat off to that kid," Branch said. "He's a tough guy. I promise you 75 percent of the players in the NFL wouldn't play [Sunday], and this guy toughed it out for him team. I truly appreciate that guy."
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