- Mike Rodak, ESPN Staff Writer
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INDIANAPOLIS -- For all the buzz surrounding Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski's left ankle the past two weeks, his health was not a determining factor in New England's 21-17 loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI on Sunday night.
At least not according to Gronkowski.
"I was good," Gronkowski said. "I was 100 percent out there doing everything they asked me to do."
What the Patriots asked Gronkowski to do was considerably less than what he was called on to do when healthy this season. On special teams, Gronkowski did not assume his normal role as part of the wedge on the kick return unit. In the red zone, quarterback Tom Brady turned to Danny Woodhead and Aaron Hernandez for the Patriots' two touchdowns. Gronkowski was clearly not 100 percent.
Gronkowski, who suffered a sprained left ankle against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game but returned to play in that game, had both of his ankles heavily taped for Super Bowl XLVI.
"I was full speed the whole game," Gronkowski said. "There's no excuses."
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Gronkowski was on the field for 45 of New England's 62 offensive plays, or 72 percent, his lowest percentage of plays this season. Moreover, Gronkowski was thrown to only three times, catching two passes for 26 yards, his lowest output since early October.
The second of Brady's passes intended for Gronkowski, a desperation heave as the quarterback escaped pressure from the Giants' rush, was intercepted by New York linebacker Chase Blackburn, who, at 6-foot-3, was able to box out hobbled, 6-6 Gronkowski on the play.
"I just got to get up there and deflect that out of the way," Gronkowski said. "[Blackburn] made a nice play."
When the Patriots' offense took the field for the final possession of the game, trailing 21-17 with less than a minute remaining, Gronkowski was not on the field for the first seven plays of the drive. Instead, the Patriots opted for a three-wide-receiver set with Hernandez as their lone tight end.
"He still did a great job," Hernandez said of Gronkowski. "Even though he had that hurt ankle, he played through it and he still had a good game for us."
Gronkowski's first play of that drive was the final play of the game, a Hail Mary heave from Brady into the end zone as time expired. Gronkowski was in good position for the jump ball pass as it deflected off a group of receivers and defenders, but the ball found the ground just beyond his outstretched hands. The incompletion sealed the Giants' fourth Super Bowl championship.
"It was a jump ball play," Gronkowski said. "Aaron [Hernandez] did a great job of getting the ball deflected. I almost had it, but almost isn't enough."
Gronkowski's teammates lauded his efforts to play Sunday night on an injury that, in the regular season, probably would have sidelined him several weeks.
"He played his butt off. He fought. He came out to our practice on Thursday, and it's hard to believe he could play the game with the way he was feeling," Brady said. "He really toughed it out."
"With the role he did play, I tilt my hat off to that kid, he's a tough guy," wide receiver Deion Branch said. "I promise you 75 percent of the players in the NFL wouldn't play today, and this guy toughed it out for his team, and I truly appreciate that guy."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked after the game whether not having Gronkowski fully healthy affected Brady in the early part of the game.
"I don't know," Belichick said. "I wouldn't say so."
After the game, Gronkowski refuted reports that he will undergo offseason surgery on his injured ankle.
"Just keep doing treatments, start recovering from it," Gronkowski said of his offseason plans. "It will be good to go. I'm not worried about it at all."
Mike Rodak covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.
22hESPN Stats & Information