Later, the injured Patriots tight end was several tortured inches away from snaring a Hail Mary pass that would have won the game.
"We almost had it," Gronkowski said, sullen after his team's 21-17 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday night. "But almost isn't enough."
Gronkowski played despite suffering a high ankle sprain in the AFC title game two weeks ago and had two catches for 26 yards.
On the game's final play, after the Giants had taken the lead with 57 seconds remaining, Brady let loose from beyond midfield on a pass that tracked toward tight end Aaron Hernandez in the end zone.
Hernandez was socked in, surrounded by three Giants defenders as he leapt for the pass, and Gronkowski was in front of the pack.
"It was a jump ball," Gronkowski said. "Aaron did a good job."
But Gronkowski didn't react quickly enough -- or couldn't react quickly enough -- after the ball was deflected. He stumbled forward and reached, but the ball fell incomplete just out of his grasp.
A picture showed Gronkowski's white-gloved hands tantalizingly close to the football in the middle of the end zone, with a referee nearby ready to make a call.
It could have been an all-time great moment in the NFL. Instead, the ball hit the turf and New York celebrated its second Super Bowl win over the Patriots in five seasons.
"I kind of saw it at the last second and I was close," said Gronkowski. "But that doesn't matter. I didn't get it."
Gronkowski set single-season NFL records for tight ends with 1,327 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns. The only real mystery leading up to Sunday's game was how healthy he would be.
His first catch of the game was a 20-yarder for first down during a 96-yard touchdown march near the end of the first half that tied a Super Bowl record for the longest drive.
Later, Gronkowski flashed open and waved his hand to get Brady's attention as three defenders closed on the quarterback. But he just wasn't able to recover in time to get position on Blackburn, who picked the pass off at the Giants' eight-yard line.
"He just made a good play," Gronkowski said. "He backed me up pretty well and went up and made a good play."
Gronkowski, who was wearing a walking boot up until earlier in the week, shook off questions about his injury after the game, saying he was ready to play.
"I was out there," said Gronkowski. "I was 100 percent."