Gronkowski delighted after playing first Patriots pre-season game since 2012

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Rob Gronkowski could hardly hide his delight after seeing pre-season action for the first time since 2012.

The New England Patriots tight end unexpectedly played 14 of the team's first 16 plays in Saturday night's exhibition loss to the Houston Texans. 

Although he didn't record any catches or targeted passes, Gronkowski said it was nice to just be on the field.

"It felt good to be out there, get my feet wet, to get the speed of the game. I love to play football," Gronkowski said, via ESPN.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady also started Saturday's game in Houston, though he had a much better outing as he went 6-of-9 with 67 yards and a touchdown. He said he was "proud" of Gronkowski, who missed the second half of last season with a back injury and needed surgery.

"For him to go out there, and all of training camp, he's building so much confidence. I'm proud of him, so we just have to keep it going," Brady said of Gronkowski.

Gronkowski had 25 receptions for 540 yards and three scores in eight games last year. He was left as a spectator amid the Patriots' historic Super Bowl victory after undergoing his third back surgery.