By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — Among the many impressive aspects of the Patriots’ comeback win over the Jaguars on Sunday was the fact that they did it without their most potent offensive force.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski suffered a concussion in the final minutes of the first half after being the recipient of a helmet-to-helmet hit from Jacksonville safety Barry Church. The 15-yard penalty contributed to what turned out to be the Patriots’ first touchdown drive of the day, but the loss of Gronkowski was seemingly much more significant.
The immediate aftermath of the hit was frightening, with Gronkowski unable to gain his footing and appearing to be dazed.
Gronkowski was examined and tested for a concussion, and he did not return to the game.
While head injuries are impossible to predict, the Boston Herald’s Karen Guregian reported that there’s early optimism to Gronkowski’s availability for the Super Bowl, which will be played on Feb. 4.
Church said that he had no ill intent on the play, and the veteran safety said he disagreed with the penalty being called.
“I just tried to dislodge the ball. He’s a big dude and I was just trying to dislodge the ball, but I guess they felt it was too high of a hit. I hope he’s healthy. I know he didn’t come back so I hope he’s all right,” Church said. “I thought it was [a good football play]. I mean I’m going 100 miles an hour. I led with my shoulder. I felt like I hit him in his chest. I thought it was a good play, but the refs thought otherwise. You gotta go with what they call. … I felt like it was a great hit. There’s nothing I can do about it. I’m just going 100 miles an hour, like I said. If I go low at his knees, it’s a dirty play. If I go high, you’ve gotta hit in the target zone. But it’s hard to hit a target zone going 100 miles an hour.”
Church said the size of Gronkowski makes it harder to deliver a hit to separate the receiver from the ball.
“Yes, it’s tough. That guy is humongous,” Church said. “If you wait for him to catch it and bring it down, he might run you over. You have to go with it and try and hit him in the right target zone, but going a 100 miles an hour like that is nearly impossible.”
Linebacker Myles Jack also disagreed with the penalty call, calling it “ticky-tacky.”
“It was irritating, for sure, because it’s hard — you’ve got a guy like Gronk who is [6-foot-6], and he’s going for a ball, and you’ve got to understand we’re moving a million miles an hour,” Jack said. “It’s hard to target somebody, and he’s going for the ball moving, moving. But I don’t know, that ref felt like that was a call to make.”
While the hit itself wouldn’t be considered “dirty” by most football observers, the helmet-to-helmet contact on a defenseless receiver did make it a clear violation. Hence, the penalty.
After the 24-20 win, the Patriots were mostly concerned about Gronkowski’s health than a penalty call.
“It’s hard when you lose such a critical part of your team and offense, and hopefully he’s OK,” Tom Brady said. “It was a tough shot he took, and he’s as tough as they come, so hopefully he feels better soon.”
Again, there’s no way any doctor can state on Jan. 21 that any player will be fit to play professional football within two weeks. But the report that there is early optimism at least keeps alive the chances that the Patriots’ leading receiver during the regular season can suit up for the Super Bowl.