New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was a dominant force all year long and despite the reported high ankle sprain he suffered in the AFC Championship game against the Ravens, he will continue his stellar play in the Super Bowl.
He caught 90 passes for 1,327 yards and broke the NFL record for touchdown receptions by a tight end in a single season with 17.
In the 45-10 drubbing of the Denver Broncos in the Division Round of the playoffs, Gronkowski exploded, grabbing 10 passes for 145 and three scores.
Against the Ravens, he was effective despite suffering an injury late in the third quarter. The injury looked ugly, but it didn't seem to faze Gronkowski who returned to the game, including being on the field for the go-ahead touchdown scramble from quarterback Tom Brady.
After the game, Gronkowski was seen in a walking boot, and even appeared to duck reporters in the Patriots locker room early last week to avoid questions.
On Tuesday at Super Bowl Media Day, Gronkowski was very Belichickian saying that he was unsure if he would play or not, Going day by day, whatever the training staff tells me what to do, I'm doing, he said to the assembled throng, but that is a complete smoke screen. The Patriots need him desperately and so he will be a key factor on Sunday.
Perhaps most tellingly, Gronkowski was out of the walking boot on Tuesday afternoon, a sign that team doctors think he has made a great deal of progess in his recovery.
Without further ado - the Five Reasons Rob Gronkowski will play, and play well, on Sunday.
When the teams met in the Super Bowl in 2007, the Giants defense confused, pressured and knocked Tom Brady down leading the usually unflappable field general to look rushed in the pocket.
This year's incarnation of the Giants is no different they will hound Brady relentlessly which will force him to look to some of his shorter routes and check downs.
When Brady drops back, feel pressure and looks to make a play the 6'6, 265 pound frame of big number 87 will look like a very safe and inviting place to drop the ball.
Size not speed
Gronkowski clocked a 4.6 40 at his 2011 Pro Day (He did not run at the combine due to injuries). That is quick for a tight end, but hardly blazing speed. What makes him a special player is his ability to shield defenders with his size and make catches with his hands.
His frame makes him very difficult to stop, and most defenders have found that it is safer to let him make the catch then bring him down as opposed to trying to get around him for a big play.
The injury to his ankle will very likely rob him of some of his top end speed and explosiveness, but Gronk is effective - especially in the red zone - even without his speed.
Lest we forget in all the hoopla and intrigue surrounding the Super Bowl, Gronkowski returned to play just a few minutes after the initial injury. While some of that can be attributed to adrenaline, if the damage was truly that great he would not have been able to come in and be effective late in the game.
Not to mention, if he had a surge of adrenaline that overcame his pain against the Ravens, a 22 year old playing in his first Super Bowl might have a bit of that rush left over to overcome any nagging bumps and bruises.
Match Up Problems
In their other meeting this season the Giants edged the Patriots 24-20, but Gronkowski was a beast grabbing 8 catches for 101 yards and a touchdown. The major reason for that was that the Giants didn't have anyone who could cover him and they still don't.
Linebackers like Michael Boley and Greg Jones have the best chance given their size and speed, but both give up more than three inches and 40 pounds to Gronkowski and they are not fast enough to make up that gap.
Mathias Kiwanuka certainly has the size to keep up with Gronk, standing 6'5 and weighing in at 260 pounds, but Kiwanuka is not a coverage guy. He has 10 pass deflections in his six seasons. The Giants need him rushing the passer and helping out in run coverage not chasing Gronkowski all over the field.
The Giants safeties Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle are small enough that they could actually use Gronkowski as a killer spot in an impromptu game of hide and seek. Asking them to handle him will be a losing proposition.
Last, but not least, the Patriots have a scary number of offensive weapons for Brady to choose from. The number of weapons forces opposing defensive coaches, like New York's Perry Fewell to make decisions about who they want to shut down and who they will let beat them.
With the likes of Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Super Bowl XXXIX MVP Deion Branch on the field, the Giants will be apt to overlook the wounded Gronkowski in favor of his healthy counterparts.
The one thing Brady is most adept at is finding the soft spot in the coverage and exploiting mismatches, if the Giants don't commit to Gronkowski wholeheartedly Brady will make them pay.