By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Rob Gronkowski was absolutely dominant on Sunday afternoon in his hometown of Buffalo for the New England Patriots. But a late hit delivered by the tight end added a subplot to the 23-3 win that the Patriots would rather have not seen.
It came after rookie cornerback Tre’Davious White intercepted a Tom Brady pass intended for Gronkowski with less than five minutes to play in the fourth quarter. On the play in question, White twice grabbed Gronkowski’s jersey, but the officials did not throw a flag for a penalty.
After White intercepted the pass, he rolled out of bounds. Yet the officials were late to blow the whistle to end the play. Perhaps sensing an opportunity to deliver a free shot on an opponent, Gronkowski speared White, who was lying on the turf with his back to Gronkowski.
If arguing a potential excuse for the hit, Gronkowski would perhaps argue that the whistle came very late, and the hit was delivered before the whistle was blown. However, the obvious fact that White was out of bounds and the fact that Phillip Dorsett touched White while he was down would wipe out any potential excuse for the hit to have ever been delivered.
Gronkowski was issued a penalty for unnecessary roughness on the play, yet due to penalties on New England’s Danny Amendola and Buffalo’s Micah Hyde elsewhere on the play, no penalty yardage was enforced. In fact, Bills linebacker Jerry Hughes was given a 15-yard penalty after the down for comments he made toward an official.
So in terms of on-field punishment, there was none for Gronkowski. But speculation is sure to ensue that he deserves punishment in the form of a fine and/or suspension.
That’s in part due to Tony Romo mentioning the possibility of a suspension on the game broadcast, but also due to how out in the open the hit was when Gronkowski delivered it.
For his part, after talking to the media and apologizing to White, Gronkowski admitted that he was frustrated when he made the hit.
“It was a lot of frustration and I was just really frustrated at that moment. It just happened naturally through emotions and frustration,” Gronkowski said. “Just want to apologize to Tre’Davious White. I don’t really believe in the type of shots like that, but just due to frustration process, game of football, emotions, just that’s what happened.”
Gronkowski explained that he felt like he was interfered with on the play. He also shared frustration from the offensive pass interference penalty he was charged with earlier in the game.
“I just don’t understand why there was no flag, and there was a couple of times in the game,” Gronkowski said. “And they’re calling me for the craziest stuff ever, and it’s like crazy. I mean, what am I supposed to do? And then they don’t call that? I mean, it was just frustration. And that’s what happened.”
When asked if the frustration was the culmination of the past couple of games, Gronkowski answered back, “Over the past seven years.”
“I don’t know,” he concluded. “I just gotta keep playing, and playing hard. I can’t [lose my cool]. That definitely could hurt the team. Obviously it didn’t hurt the team, there, but it definitely can in the future and you definitely gotta keep your cool.”
Bills head coach Sean McDermott said that White entered the concussion protocol for evaluation after the game.
“I just don’t think that there’s any place in the game for that,” McDermott said of Gronkowski’s hit. “It was unfortunate and I know that he’s a better player than that.”
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick didn’t offer an opinion on the play.
“I didn’t really see what happened on the whole play; there was quite a bit of stuff going on on that play,” Belichick said. “So that was something that the officials handled today, and it’s not really anything we have any control over.”
It’s unclear how severely, if at all, White ends up being injured. But the severity or lack thereof or White’s condition doesn’t change the hit itself. It was a hit which Gronkowski himself classified as a “shot” of which he doesn’t approve, and when the replay plays over and over again on sports programs around the country, the background of the root of Gronkowski’s frustration will not factor in to the general public’s opinion on the hit.
NFL precedent dictates that such a hit should not result in a suspension. After all, Bengals receiver A.J. Green did not receive a suspension for putting Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey in a chokehold, slamming him to the turf, and then throwing punches.
However, as the Patriots franchise is aware, precedent doesn’t always play a role when the NFL determines discipline. And public opinion can go a long way in influencing any decision on punishment.
So, while the hit was inexcusable, the NFL’s own history shows that it should not result in a suspension. Whether it does? Like most incidences involving the NFL making a decision, it remains a mystery