PHOENIX >> Rob Gronkowski’s ankle is fine. So are his forearm and knee. He’s way past those injuries that ruined his last three postseasons.
You can’t even hurt his feelings.
So when Seattle nickel back Jeremy Lane says “I actually don’t think he’s that good,” the best tight end in the NFL says, simply, “Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion.”
Of course, the 265-pound Gronkowski can change that opinion when the Patriots face the Seahawks and the 190-pound Lane in the Super Bowl on Sunday. Healthy again, he should be a handful.
“Ready to roll,” he said Tuesday.
Gronkowski missed the AFC championship games the past two years with a broken left forearm in 2013 and a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee in 2014. In the Super Bowl in 2012, he was limited by a high left ankle sprain. New England lost all three.
The fun-loving but hard-working Gronkowski was back on a Super Bowl Media Day platform on Tuesday. His laugh and smile were present, just as they were three years ago. The questions were different.
“It feels good to be 100 percent healthy,” he said, “and not get a million questions like last time about my ankle.”
Even when he got them, his sense of humor kicked in.
Asked before the 2012 game how he was feeling, Gronkowski said with a grin, “Good. How are you feeling?”
When another ankle question came up Tuesday, even though that body part hasn’t sidelined him this season, he said, “It’s very good. Thanks for worrying about my ankle.”
That’s Gronkowski. He keeps a light touch whether he’s healthy or hobbling. His upbeat character rubs off on teammates.
“The young man has had to deal with so much early on in his career and he has a great, great attitude and a great heart. He’s got a unique joy about him,” Patriots special teams star Matthew Slater said. “Even in the midst of that adversity, he was staying positive. He was focused on getting back on the field.”
Gronkowski rehabbed obsessively, played in the opener and gradually made a greater impact. He caught just 13 passes, although three were for touchdowns, in the first four games. But in each of the next five, he had at least five catches with 100 or more yards receiving in three of them. He knocks down defenders and keeps on running.
“Totally back to my old self,” said Gronkowski, who holds NFL single-season records for most touchdowns and yards receiving by a tight end. “Going into that Cincinnati game (six catches for 100 yards) in Week 5, everything just kicked in and I felt good,” he said.
He has a touchdown catch in each of his two playoff games.
But now he must face the NFL’s best defense. Seattle allowed the fewest points, yards and yards passing.
Depending on where he lines up — wide, in the slot or right next to the tackle — Gronkowski will be covered by different defenders. On some plays, it will be 232-pound safety Kam Chancellor. On others it could be linebackers K.J. Wright or Bobby Wagner. And when the Seahawks play a zone defense, cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell may get a crack at him.
No matter who covers him, Gronkowski won’t back down.
He recalled that in high school when someone would deliver a big hit, he and his teammates would “go crazy.”
He’s taking that same passion for physical play into the most important game Sunday.
“It gets you amped up,” Gronkowski said. “That’s what’s so special about (football) is how hard you can go and just take whatever you have built up and just go full speed at someone and level them. And someone can do that to you, so you’ve got to be ready at all times.”
No wonder wide receiver Julian Edelman calls him “just a big goofball who has fun playing football.”
Or why team owner Robert Kraft said Tuesday, “In our next life, a lot of people might want to be Rob. He never has a bad day.”
Now, for the first time in four years, he has a healthy shot at having a good day in the final game of the Patriots season.
“It’s definitely a tough experience” being hurt for big games, Gronkowski said. “Definitely don’t take the game for granted anymore. It’s an honor to be out there on the field with my teammates.”