Toucher & Rich

BOSTON (CBS) — Rob Gronkowski is only expected to miss a game or two with a knee strain he suffered Sunday night in Denver, which is great news for the New England Patriots.

His absence also means he won’t be getting flagged for offensive pass interference over the next few weeks, which has become commonplace when the tight end clears some space this season.

There have been five accepted offensive pass interference calls on Gronk this season, which leads the NFL. He has more OPI flags thrown on him this season than 30 other NFL teams overall. Really, it’s getting a little silly.

The most recent penalty came late in Sunday night’s loss to the Denver Broncos, when Gronkowski caught a 10-yard pass on third-and-5 to give the Patriots a crucial first down. But that key reception was brought back thanks to laundry being tossed on the field, even though Denver safety David Bruton was the one to initiate contact on the play. It was the second time of the evening Gronk was flagged for the offense, with the first getting offset by a Denver penalty.

The Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe joined 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich on Tuesday, and said it’s pretty clear the NFL has made it a point to target the Patriots tight end this season.

“There is no question about that. There is not even a debate, especially after that fourth quarter OPI called on Sunday. That closed the book on that debate; they are going after Rob Gronkowski,” said Howe. “He didn’t even initiate the contact and was penalized on that play. That was the worst penalty, up there with the Malcolm Butler PI [against the Giants]. Those are the two worst penalties I’ve seen called  this season against the Patriots.”

While some Patriots fans feel there is a much deeper conspiracy at work, given how the league went after the Patriots during the offseason, Howe has a tough time buying that. But he doesn’t fault Patriots fans for feeling that way, especially after they had to stomach the Gronkowski OPI and a horrendous holding call on Patrick Chung later in the fourth quarter on Sunday.

“Maybe there is something out there. How can you say those are unfair things to think after the way the NFL targeted this team? The other side is the officiating has been such a horror show all season long, and you probably have every other team in the league who can point to certain instances and say the officials bagged the game for them,” said Howe. “The conspiracy theory is a tough one to subscribe to, but I think it’s absolutely legitimate when you look at the way they’re targeting Gronk.”

As for the tight end’s injury, Howe thinks if he’s good to go against the Houston Texans on December 13 he’ll be out there.

“I think they’ll get him our there as soon as he’s healthy. On the other side of [Sunday’s]Philly game there is a trip to Houston that is looking a little more of a challenge as the weeks go by, just with how good that defense is. They’ll need a little more manpower, assuming Danny Amendola isn’t back at 100 percent that week,” he said, adding that even a 70 percent Gronk is usually more effective than many other targets around the NFL. “But we’ve seen Bill Belichick operate with a different set of rules with Gronkowsi the last year and a half, and it was never more evident than in the preseason when they sat him out the entire summer. They limited his work during training camp to keep him fresh and make sure there were no fluky or freaky injuries. Knowing the entire team’s success is built around what they do in January and February, they’re going to be more cautious with Gronk. If there is any chance of further injury or aggravating the injury, of course they’re going to take the more cautious approach. But if he has a green light and there’s no risk, he’ll be out there.”