New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski missed the NFL playoffs last year after undergoing back surgery, but the playmaker is ready to make up for lost time this postseason.
Reigning Super Bowl champions New England host the Tennessee Titans in their AFC divisional round matchup on Saturday.
The Patriots won the Super Bowl last year without Gronkowski on the active roster, and the five-time Pro Bowler is relishing his return to the field.
"I'm excited, definitely. I wasn't part of it last year, but not looking in the back, just looking forward to this game," Gronkowski told reporters on Tuesday. "I'm super excited to be back out there with the team. Just super excited out there on the field with the boys again. We had a couple of days off. It's my first playoff game in a while, so I'm excited, man. I've just got to take it one day at a time right now."
Gronkowski doe not know how long it took him to regain strength in his back, but the 28-year-old is happy to take a patient approach ahead of his comeback.
"I never came off a surgery and said, 'Oh, wow. I feel comfortable,'" he said. "I mean, I can't really give you the timeline like, 'Oh, this many weeks,' or whatever, but throughout them all I would say that you just can't go full speed, even though your mindset is you want to be 100 per cent ready to roll. But, just got to keep on sticking to the process, keep on sticking to the rehab, keep on going hard and everything will kick in."
While the Patriots are favourites to win, Gronkowski said there is no resting as they prepare for a pesky Titans team that rallied in the second half last week to beat the Kansas City Chiefs.
"The intensity is high. It's like any other week though," Gronkowski said. "You've got to prepare the same. It's not like your changing up the schedule just because it's the playoffs. You're not really doing anything different. You've just got to come in, prepare hard, keep the level up.
"The intensity has been high every single week all year long. You've just got to keep on continuing that, keep on preparing how we have been and get ready for the big game."
Gronkowski was named first-team All-Pro this season for the fifth time in his career. He also made his fifth Pro Bowl after hauling in 69 receptions for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns.
"It's definitely an honour, for sure. I mean, a lot of hard work, dedication, patience, the whole process of coming back," Gronkowski said. "I would say, patience is the virtue there. You just can't come back right away and think you're going to be out full speed, so just a lot of hard work, dedication.
"It's the playoffs now. It's one and done if you lose, so just got to keep on preparing and looking forward, forward now and not look in the past."