- Associated Press - Thursday, January 26, 2012

FOXBOROUGH, MASS. (AP) - The Super Bowl ankle jinx has struck the New England Patriots again.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski missed the team’s first practice for the game Thursday with a left ankle injury. Four years earlier, quarterback Tom Brady skipped practice for a week before the game with an injured right ankle.

Both offensive stars were hurt in the third quarter of the AFC championship game. Brady recovered enough to play against the New York Giants. The Patriots hope Gronkowski does the same.

“It’s the Super Bowl, so we’re all trying to get out there and be healthy,” Brady said Thursday. “You put all the work in over the course of the entire year and have the opportunity to play in this game. Everyone’s going to be doing everything they can to be out there.”

The Patriots have given no details on the extent of Gronkowski’s injury and he was not available during the period when reporters had locker room access. But with more than a week before the Super Bowl on Feb. 5, there’s no need to rush him back.

He returned to last Sunday’s 23-20 win over the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth quarter, about five minutes after being helped off the field and going to the locker room with a slight limp. He was hurt in the final minute of the third quarter after catching a 23-yard pass from Brady.

After the victory, Gronkowski remained on the field, raised over his head the Lamar Hunt Trophy that goes to the AFC champions and yelled in celebration as fans cheered.

The next day, just as Brady was in 2008, Gronkowski was seen wearing a protective boot on his injured ankle.

Aaron Hernandez, the versatile half of the Patriots unique tight end combination, said Thursday the usually upbeat Gronkowski seems cheerful.

“I’m sure he’ll be fine,” Hernandez said. “He’s full of excitement, never in a bad mood, always happy. So I’m pretty sure he’s still happy.”

Coach Bill Belichick, typically, was less revealing.

Asked how Gronkowski was progressing, he said, “good, good.”

And he was noncommittal on how the Patriots would be affected if Gronkowski plays in the Super Bowl without practicing for it.

“We’ll just have to see, you know,” Belichick said. “He’s not going to practice today, so take it day by day. I’m not going to try to forecast where things will be 10 days from now. We’ll just take it day by day.”

But what if the powerful pass catcher can’t play against the Giants?

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