In a world run rampant by twitter talk and hot takes, there is a singular moment from Sunday’s Bills-Patriots’ game that will dominate the airwaves and headlines all week.
With five minutes left in their annual beatdown of Buffalo in Orchard Park, Tom Brady attempted a pass deep down the far sideline. The pass was underthrown and a backpedaling Tre’Davious White leaped to picked it off. White made no effort to advance the ball as half his body fell out of bounds. For good measure, Patriots’ receiver Phillip Dorsett touched White’s back.
One instant later, Rob Gronkowski, perhaps the greatest tight end in NFL history, seemingly went brain dead and launched a WWE-style elbow drop directly on to the back of the unsuspecting corner’s head. Gronkowski jumped to his feet, but White stayed down in obvious pain. And, to the side, Danny Amendola and Micah Hyde got into a slight scuffle. All three offenders were called for unnecessary roughness and despite two of those fouls coming against New England, they collectively offset.
The Bills ended up being the team losing yards on penalties due to Jerry Hughes’ verbal abuse of an official as he walked off the field.
If you follow twitter, the backlash was immediate from all sectors – national, regional, local, die-hard fans and bystanders all had some level of rage over the incident. What will be the short and long-term implications of Gronkowski’s “unsportsmanlike” conduct? What is a fair and rational way to judge him based on this moment in time?
For a certainty, he will be fined. He has already been fined twice by the league for incidents such as his throwing “haymakers” in Super Bowl XLIX and when he threw Sergio Brown “out of the club” in Indianapolis. Many in the league laughed those things off as Gronkowski being that big, goofy guy from Western New York.
This latest episode, however, is no laughing matter. Tre’Davious White is an ultra-smart young man with a bright future who just suffered his first-career concussion. It has been well-documented how the NFL is seeking to protect people from brain injuries. A deliberate shot with such brute force from a big, strong man like Gronkowski can have terrible consequences on White’s future. The league, no doubt, will use that criteria when it renders its judgment on the play.
Using the Bears’ Danny Trevathan’s head-hunting hit on Davante Adams and the Buccaneers’ Mike Evans’ cheap shot against the Saints as barometers, it is likely Gronk gets a one game suspension. Some have pointed to AJ Green not receiving a suspension as a precedent for Gronkowski’s situation. However, Green was ejected from that game. Gronk was not tossed making a one game absence a legit possibility.
But, one can never figure out what the NFL will do. Tom Brady received a ludicrous 4-game suspension for allegedly deflating balls to milli-smidge below legal limits. Gronkowski may or may not get one game for trying to knock someone’s lights out. Does something sound a little awry about that?
To be fair, Gronk apologized immediately following the game and wanted #27 to know that is not what he is about. Anybody who watches Gronkowski play week in and week out knows that’s true. He is a good sportsman who suffered a terrible lapse in judgment. He battles on every play. He is a marvelous pass receiver who dominated his tiny counterparts in the Buffalo secondary. Likewise, he is a sound blocker who can match up with anybody.
One would guess he will learn from his transgression. He is proud of his Buffalo background and wants to represent his hometown well. He also wants to embody the “Patriot Way.” That means playing smart, fundamental football. It is extremely rare to see a member of the Patriots get as emotionally unhinged as Gronk did on Sunday.
Gronkowski proclaimed that he was being held all game long. Indeed, on the play that ended up in the interception, there was obvious pass interference. One quarter earlier, Gronkowski was called for an absurd offensive pass interference penalty. Apparently, these officiating decisions led to Gronk’s tantrum.
Sometimes, ill-informed enemy fan bases out of jealousy or frustration condemn the league for being partial toward the Patriots. That, of course, is hogwash. But, Gronkowski physically lashing out on a cornerback whose biggest offense was trying to cover him will not improve the team’s league-wide image. Is that fair? Probably not.
Gronkowski has played 8 seasons on a team that competes for the Super Bowl each and every year. There will not be too many people shedding tears over Gronk’s perceived lack of calls. The officials are going to miss calls and make bad calls every single game. There is no way the referees favor the Patriots and no way Gronkowski is a victim of poor officiating. It all evens out.
And, it evened out again this past Sunday. The Bills were outplayed and outcoached. Officials had their say, but made their usual share of good and bad calls for and against both teams.
And, can Gronkowski really be upset over the officiating on a day he went for 147 yards?
Next Monday night, Gronkowski should have a real reason to be upset. The NFL should do the right thing and suspend him for the Patriots’ game in Miami.
Brandon Fazzolari is a Super Bowl expert…@spot_Bills