Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski clears concussion protocol and says he’ll play in Super Bowl LII

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski answers questions during a news conference in Minneapolis on Feb. 1.
(Mark Humphrey / Associated Press)

It’s difficult to fathom a scenario — especially during a Super Bowl week — where another New England Patriots player commands more attention than quarterback Tom Brady.

Rob Gronkowski accomplished the feat Thursday.

Gronkowski, the Patriots’ larger-than-life tight end, was a full participant in practice, finally cleared concussion protocol, and, in his first media appearance in nearly two weeks, said he would play against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium.

“I’ll be ready to go in the game full-go,” he said before a crush of reporters. “Ready to roll.”


Gronkowski’s status for the defending-champion Patriots’ third Super Bowl appearance in four years had been shrouded in mystery ever since he left the Jan. 21 AFC championship game after suffering a concussion.

Gronkowski said having the extra week before arriving in Minneapolis last Sunday helped him recover. The Patriots’ medical staff put him through a series of “brain games” and other tests on his road to being cleared, he said.

“We knew the whole time I’d be good to go,” he said.

The Patriots proved they could win without the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Gronkowski by coming back to defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars. He also sat out last season’s epic Super Bowl comeback victory over the Atlanta Falcons because of a back injury.

But they did not want to go into another Super Bowl without him, and he didn’t either.

“Just happy to be back out there with the boys,” said Gronkowski, an eight-year pro who caught a team-best 69 passes for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns this season.

Brady is happy to have Gronkowski back in the fold.

“Gronk is just a dominant player,” Brady said. “He always finds ways to have space.

“He’s tall, he’s fast, he’s quick, he’s got incredible hands. I mean, look at the guy. I mean, it’s pretty nice to throw to guys like that.”

Gronkowski’s out-sized personality also energizes the Patriots’ defense.

“Anytime we have Robbie G in the lineup, he’s a difference maker,” linebacker Kyle Van Noy said.

As he held court with reporters for more than 30 minutes, Gronkowski appeared upbeat and excited to participate in media responsibilities that visibly wear on other players, especially by the end of the week.

But he declined to revisit specifics of the play that resulted in the concussion.

As Gronkowski attempted to make a catch late in the first half of the Patriots’ 24-20 victory at Gillette Stadium, he was struck by Jaguars safety Barry Church, who was penalized for unnecessary roughness and fined $24,309.

“It’s football. It is what it is,” Gronkowski said. “I mean, it’s a split second to make a decision. And it’s running full speed one way. I’m going the other way.

“It’s just part of the game. It happens. And just got to move on.”

Gronkowski appeared on the practice field last week but, because it was not a game week, the Patriots were not required to publicly disclose the extent of his participation.

The Eagles anticipated that he would play.

“He’s a physical specimen,” Eagles safety Rodney McLeod said this week. “He’s one of the best tight ends, has good hands, runs routes and is a target in the red zone.

“We’re going to have to do a good job at disrupting Brady and their timing. They’ve been doing it for so long, so they have good chemistry together. But we’re going to have just understand where [Gronkowski’s] at and what they’re trying to do based on where he lines up.”

Before Gronkowski faced reporters, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was typically understated when asked how it felt to have the five-time Pro Bowl tight end clear concussion protocol.

“Good,” Belichick said. “Good to have everybody back.”

The Patriots will have a light practice Friday and then gather for a team photo Saturday.

On Sunday, Gronkowski will try to help the Patriots claim another Super Bowl victory.

“Just super excited to be out there with my teammates,” he said, “and play in one of the biggest games of my life.”

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein