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Patriots notebook

Gronkowski again absent

Despite high ankle sprain, likely to play

By Shalise Manza Young and Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff / January 28, 2012
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FOXBOROUGH - The Patriots held their final home practice of the season yesterday, with a full-pads session inside the Dana-Farber Field House.

And like Thursday, the lone absentee was tight end Rob Gronkowski.

In an interview yesterday morning with Buffalo television station WIVB, Gronkowski’s father, Gordon, said his son suffered a high ankle sprain in the second half of last Sunday’s AFC Championship game when he was tackled by safety Bernard Pollard.

It wasn’t clear before the elder Gronkowski’s interview whether the injury was a normal sprain or high ankle sprain (which involves damage to the ligaments above the ankle).

However, as Gordon Gronkowski said and league sources have told the Globe, Rob Gronkowski is expected to play in the Super Bowl Feb. 5 in Indianapolis.

Foot and ankle specialist Robert Anderson, based in Charlotte, N.C., has been consulted about the injury, according to a league source. Gronkowski may require an arthroscopy after the Super Bowl.

The two practices this week were the first Gronkowski has missed since training camp.

The Patriots and Giants were required to submit injury reports yesterday, despite the game being more than a week away.

Gronkowski was one of 13 Patriots listed as questionable. The others were Deion Branch (knee), Marcus Cannon (ankle), Patrick Chung (knee), Dane Fletcher (thumb), James Ihedigbo (shoulder), Kyle Love (ankle), Logan Mankins (knee), Rob Ninkovich (hip), Brandon Spikes (knee), Sebastian Vollmer (back, foot), Wes Welker (knee), and Tracy White (abdomen). All were limited in practice yesterday.

Dan Connolly (groin) and Matthew Slater (shoulder), listed as probable, were full participants.

It’s not easy

Gronkowski and fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez present matchup problems for defenses. Ninkovich should know. He tries to cover them in practice.

“I go against Aaron and Rob every day, and I’d say those are the best tight ends in the league right now,’’ Ninkovich said. “With me as a defensive player, going against those guys, it only makes me better. They give me the best look I could possibly get.’’

So, Ninkovich was asked, which of the two is better?

“You can’t compare them because they’re two different tight ends,’’ he said. “Aaron, obviously, a corner can’t cover him, and Rob, a corner can’t cover him, either, because he’s so tall. Rob has such length and range, he can pretty much go and get anything, and Aaron is just so explosive and quick, you just can’t cover him.’’

Long-range benefits

With three losses in their first eight games, and a defense that was banged up and giving up big chunks of yards, the Patriots took their share of criticism. Linebacker Jerod Mayo said it served as motivation.

“It helped our mental toughness,’’ Mayo said. “But at the same time it helped our versatility, being able to put different players into the game and doing things like that. I think it really helped.’’

Getting some key players back late in the season, specifically Spikes and Chung, has also helped.

“The postseason is all about keeping guys healthy, and we’ve been fortunate enough to get those guys back and continue to get them healthy,’’ Mayo said. “[We also] have proven players who can come off the bench. I think it’s been huge for us, kind of a blessing in disguise.’’

Pack your bags

The Patriots announced the 10 winners of their “Super Bowl for Super People’’ promotion, recognizing excellence in five public service fields by rewarding fans with a trip to the Super Bowl.

The winners: firefighters Timothy Wilder (Somersworth, N.H.) and John Surabian (Stoneham); police officers Timothy Sullivan (Walpole) and Sherry DeGenova (Hartford); teachers Whitney Hartwell (Norfolk) and Jim Miller (Auburn, Maine); military members Patrick Squires (Hingham) and Todd Seymour (Lempster, N.H.); and nurses Tara Jean (Dracut) and Jim Taber (Tiverton, R.I.).

The winners will take part in tomorrow’s send-off at Gillette Stadium, then they and a guest will travel to Indianapolis for the Super Bowl.

Greg A. Bedard of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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