Gronk ready for reunion with T.J. Ward

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The last time New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski faced Broncos safety T.J. Ward, who was then on the Browns, Ward delivered a crushing hit to Gronkowski’s right knee, tearing Gronkowski’s ACL and ending his 2013 season.

Gronkowski made a catch and planted his right foot onto the field when Ward came in low with a hit he would later be criticized for as he slammed his shoulder into Gronkowski’s right knee. Gronkowski’s knee bent back in a way knees are not supposed to bend.

After the hit, Ward went down on one knee and then approached Gronokwski to shake his hand as the tight end was carted off the field.

A season later, as the two prepare to face each other again Sunday, the hit by Ward on Gronkowski emerges again. So Gronkowski was asked if Ward ever reached out to him to apologize.

“No,” Gronkowski said.

While it has yet to be determined who will be covering Gronkowski, it is likely Ward will be involved in plays with Gronkowski. Another player who could see time on Gronkowski is former teammate Aqib Talib, who was with the Patriots in 2012 and 2013.

“Whatever the situation is, you have to prepare for everyone,” Gronkowski said. “You never know what they are going to pull until you play the game, so you have to be prepared for any situation. If it’s Aqib covering me, then it’s Aqib covering me.”

Gronkowski is ready for the challenge of playing against an improved and tough Broncos defense.

“They have very good pass rushers, a very good secondary, and they have good linebackers, so just overall they have a very solid defense,” Gronkowski said. “They are playing very well together and they are a very good team.”

Gronkowski didn’t stop there in giving praise to the Broncos.

“I feel like Denver is the best team in the NFL right now,” Gronkowski said. “They have a solid offense and a very, very solid defense, great rushers. A very good team. So we have to be ready. We have to be prepared. We have to bring all that we have to compete out there.

“The atmosphere is going to be unbelievable, especially playing at home in front of the home crowd. It’s going to be a great game. The Denver Broncos are a very, very, very good team.”

With all eyes on Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in this matchup between the Patriots and Broncos, Gronkowski acknowledged the magnitude of playing on the same field with two of the all-time greats at quarterback.

“It’s an honor to be out there with both of them,” Gronkowski said. “Brady versus Manning can’t get any better. [They are] two great quarterbacks and two legendary quarterbacks. It’s an honor to be a part of it.”

Setting aside all the talk of facing Ward again and the Brady-Manning rivalry, Gronkowski is focused on one thing.

“I definitely want to be on the winning side.”