The sixth touchdown of Rob Gronkowski's record-setting season gave his Patriots a three-point lead against the Giants with 1:36 remaining in their Week Nine matchup. That's why, after injuring his left ankle in the AFC Championship, New York is keeping an eye on his status, which will be an early storyline in the buildup to Super Bowl XLVI.
During a conference call on Tuesday, New England coach Bill Belichick was his usual tight-lipped self on the matter.
"We'll see how it goes with Rob and some of the other players that are getting treatment," he said. "We'll just see how that is when we get back out on the field. We haven't practiced, obviously, in the past couple days. We'll just see how all that is when it's time to go. As you know, it's hard to gauge injuries."
Gronkowski set a an NFL record for tight ends with 17 touchdowns this season, which he followed up with 10 catches for 145 yards and three touchdowns in New England's Divisional Round rout of Denver. He then suffered the injury in the conference championship against Baltimore when safety Bernard Pollard rolled over his ankle after a 23-yard catch.
In the game that kicked off the torturous second-half slate for the Giants, the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Gronkowski had eight catches for 101 yards and the late go-ahead touchdown in Foxboro.
"From week to week it has been a similar thing for us as far as our game plan," linebacker Michael Boley said of the high-caliber tight ends they have faced. "It has always been about these are the guys that we have to stop going into the game. We always have a list of targeted guys that can make a game. For the tight ends, it has been a long list of them lately and it is kind of one of those things that we embrace. We love the challenge."
From Gronkowski to Jimmy Graham and Tony Gonzalez, the Giants have faced three Pro Bowl tight ends this year. That's not including Jermichael Finley, Jason Witten or Brent Celek.
Meanwhile, as the Year of the Quarterback is rivaled by the tight end position, the Giants will game plan around Aaron Hernandez, who had four catches for 35 yards and New England's first touchdown of the game in November.
"It all depends on your defensive scheme," safety Antrel Rolle said. "There's many ways that you can try to take away those guys. Those guys are exceptional tight ends and they've been Brady's go-to guys all year long along with Wes Welker. They present a great challenge. No matter how you look at it. No matter what you try to do, you have to go out there and do the job. You have to do the job that's at hand. It's going to be a battle. It's going to be a battle each play."