Rob Gronkowski practices with Patriots

Reporting from Indianapolis -- Good news for the New England Patriots: Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski practiced Thursday for the first time since suffering a high ankle sprain Jan. 22 in the third quarter of a 23-20 victory over Baltimore in the AFC championship game.

"He did some things. He didn't do everything," Patriots Coach Bill Belichick told pool reporter Alex Marvez. "We'll see how he is tomorrow. I think that will be the big key — how he responds to this today."

Asked how encouraged he was by what Gronkowski was able to do at practice, Belichick said: "It was good. It was fine. We'll see where he is tomorrow — whether that set him back, whether it didn't and whether he's able to continue to progress on a daily basis. But it was a good test for him."

Gronkowski caught 17 touchdown passes during the regular season, the most by a tight end in NFL history.

Brotherly love?

Eli Manning doesn't often tell colorful stories about his big brother Peyton — at least not publicly — but the New York Giants quarterback got reporters laughing this week when asked about the typical sibling scrapes the two would have.

"His most popular move," Eli recalled, "he would pin me down and take his knuckles and knock on my chest and make me name the 12 schools in the [Southeastern Conference]. I didn't know them all at the time, but I quickly learned them. It was a great learning technique. I don't suggest anyone else try it out, but it definitely made me learn the schools of the SEC.

"Once I figured those out, he moved on. There were 28 teams in the NFL at that point, so all teams in the NFL. I had to get my studying on for that. Then once I figured that out — the one I never got was the 10 brands of cigarettes.

"When he really wanted to torture me and knew I had no shot of ever getting it, that's when I just started screaming for my mom or dad to come save me, or maybe Cooper [the eldest of the three Manning sons]. That was his go-to move."

Powerful memories

Michael Walker, the father of Giants receiver Victor Cruz, died of an apparent suicide four years ago.

Cruz, the salsa-dancing sensation, has a much more somber ritual before every game. He goes to the far end zone, away from his team, drops to a knee, closes his eyes and thinks of his father, who was a firefighter in Paterson, N.J.

"[I] have a conversation with him, and just ask him to guide me while I'm out there and watch over me," Cruz said. "I understand that he's out there with me. He taught me how to play the game. Hopefully, I can play it the way he taught me, with respect and honor. That's what I talk to him about in the end zone."

Asked what his father would think of his playing in the Super Bowl, Cruz, undrafted from the University of Massachusetts in 2010, said: "He'd be here and he'd be going crazy. He probably would've gotten here when we got here on Monday and stayed the whole week, going crazy. He was a very great guy. He was just very passionate about his sons and daughters and anyone in his family, so to reach this point, for him to have been here, that would've been crazy."

Bruised feelings

Apparently folks in Buffalo weren't too pleased about their city being slighted this week by Tom Brady, and the Patriots quarterback backtracked Thursday on his controversial comments.

A day earlier, he was talking about how supportive his father has been.

"Even when I started my pro career," Brady said, "he traveled to Buffalo. I don't know if you guys have ever been to the hotels in Buffalo — they're not the nicest places in the world — but he would still travel to those."

Brady made a point to apologize and — whether fans there believe it — clarify his comments the next day.

"I apologize for saying that," said Brady, who had four interceptions in a 34-31 loss at Buffalo in Week 3. "Buffalo was tough on us this year in Buffalo. I should have picked a non-NFL city for that [comment]. Any time you throw four picks, it's going to be tough. I did that once before in a loss up there. Any time you throw four picks, you're going to feel pretty miserable the next week."

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