FOXBORO, Mass. — As the New England Patriots put the finishing touches on arguably their unlikeliest Super Bowl victory last February, Rob Gronkowski watched from the sideline in street clothes. Just two months removed from back surgery, suiting up for that game was out of the question.
The Patriots will begin what they hope will be another Super Bowl run this Saturday at Gillette Stadium. And this time, their big tight end will be able to contribute.
“I’m excited, definitely,” Gronkowski said Tuesday as the Patriots prepare to host the Tennessee Titans in the AFC divisional round. “I wasn’t part of it last year, but … I’m super excited to be back out there with the team. Just super excited today out there on the field with the boys again. We had a couple of days off. It’s my first playoff game in a while, so I’m excited, man. I’ve just got to take it one day at a time right now.”
Gronkowski missed the Patriots’ final eight games last season, including playoffs, and there was some doubt over whether he’d be the same player upon his return. He’d just undergone his third back surgery, after all, and even a body as physically imposing as Gronk’s can only take so much punishment.
Those concerns quickly vanished once the season began. After being held in check during a Week 1 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Gronkowski racked up 24 catches for 368 yards and four touchdowns over New England’s next five games, one of which he missed with a thigh injury.
Gronkowski finished the season with 69 receptions for 1,084 yards and eight scores, crossing the 1,000-yard plateau for the fourth time in his career despite not playing in two games and not being targeted in another. He was rewarded with a spot on the All-Pro first team, which triggered a $2.5 million bonus in his contract.
Speaking with reporters Tuesday for the first time since the All-Pro announcement, Gronkowski said he’s humbled by the selection, the fifth of his career. He downplayed its significance, however, insisting the Titans have his full attention.
“It’s definitely an honor, for sure,” Gronkowski said. “I mean, a lot of hard work, dedication, patience, the whole process of coming back. Definitely, I would say, patience is the virtue there. You just can’t come back right away and think you’re going to be out full speed, so just a lot of hard work, dedication.
“It’s definitely an honor — a humbling honor. But it means nothing now to tell you the truth. It’s the playoffs now. It’s one and done if you lose, so just got to keep on preparing and looking forward, forward now and not look in the past.”
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images
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