The crazy offseason of the New England Patriots rages on. A bunhc of guys gone, a bunch of guys signed, nobody knows what’s happening, and we all wake up every morning wondering if any more news will break that will leave us scratching our heads and ignoring the talking heads screaming about how Brady’s window is closing and Belichick has lost the locker room. We need some normalcy this weekend. So let’s get back to our countdown.
The list so far:
20. Back-to-back touchdowns before the half against the New York Jets help the Patriotssecure the #1 Seed in the AFC.
19. A one-handed Dion Lewis grab is pretty much the only thing that goes right against the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football.
18. The Patriots pick up James Harrison.
17. A safety and a strip sack to help secure the Number 1 Seed in the AFC against the New York Jets.
At number 16, we have ourselves a somewhat ignominious moment, but one that I can’t help but feel would happen eventually, and ultimately didn’t ended costing anyone anything long-term.
16. Gronk’s inner caveman finally reveals itself and gets him suspended.
Rob Gronkowski is a beast. He’s virtually uncoverable, a total matchup nightmare, and one of the greatest tight ends to ever play the game. And it’s a good thing too, because when it comes to Gronk’s talents off the gridiron, his options are a bit...limited. Unless spiking things and chugging beer pays well in some unknown profession (note to self: look into that), Gronk is right where he needs to be, dominating the game and continuing to build a Hall of Fame career.
There’s a thing about beasts, though - you can’t keep them tame forever, and if you piss one off, look out.
When the 9-2 Patriots traveled to Buffalo for a Week 13 matchup against the Bills, they were right in the middle of a home stretch that saw all but one opponent come from the AFC East. They had a decent lead on the division crown, but with so many AFC East matchuips coming in December, there was always a chance for some shenanigans and upsets that would make the playoff picture much murkier. They had taken care of business the week before to the tune of a 35-17 beatdown of the Miami Dolphins, and were scheudled to travel to Miami for a Monday night showdown the following week. The Bills had just pulled off an unlikely victory over the Chiefs the week before, but had lost three straight prior to that and were right in the thick of a very comeptiive wildcard hunt. A second upset over the Patriots would greatly improve Bufflao’s chances of finally ending their playoff drought.
An upset, however, wasn’t in the cards. Even after a very promising opening drive in which Tyrod Taylor took the Bills all the way down to the New England six yard line, former Buffalo player Eric Lee picked Taylor off at the goal line, and the Patriots didn’t look back. There wasn’t much offense for either side in the first half, but the Patriots scored field goals on three of their firs four possessions and took a 9-3 lead into halftime.
The lead quickly became 16-3 when the Patriots went 70 yards on 10 plays on the opening possession of the third quarter to punch the ball in on a Rex Burkhead run. Of those 70 opening drive yards, Rob Gronkowski accounted for 50 of them. The lead then became 23-3 after the Bills netted all of -1 yards on their next possession, eventually punting on 4th and 25 after penalties and a 20 yard Taylor sack completely short-circuited the drive. Nine plays and 78 yards later - which included a 30 yard bomb to Gronk - Burkhead was in the end zone again, and that was basically it. Both teams traded punts for the rest of the game as New England backed off and went into clock kill mode, and Buffalo was just unable to get anything going - especially after a scary fourth quarter injury to Tyrod Taylor brought the cart out. With Nathan Peterman in the game, the Bills never had a chance.
Unfortunately, neither did Tre’Davious White.
White, a rookie out of LSU selected by Buffalo 27th overall in 2017, was covering Gronkowksi on a deep out pattern on 3rd and 7. Gronk had a step on White, but Brady underthrew it slightly and White got a bit of a pushoff on the play, which allowed him to intercept the pass and roll out of bounds. The interception was fairly meaningless, as the game was well in hand by that point, but it was an interception nontheless.
Gronkowski, after getting up from the push-off, dove at the back of White’s head with his shoulder lowered and delivered what can only be described as a dirty hit and a total cheap shot. White was clearly hurt by the hit, and Bills players rushed over to start a scuffle. Gronk received a 15 yard penalty on the play, and White would not return to the game.
If you go back to look at the replay, White probably got away with a little bit of holding, and you can for sure make a case that there was a pushoff on the play. Players have certainly been flagged for DPI for significantly less contact than what White got away with. At the same time, players have done much worse than White and not drawn the flag, so who knows. But honestly, whether or not that was a missed penalty is completely irrelevant here. It was a cheap shot, plain and simple, an awful thing to do, and a completely inexcusable act. The internet was quick to bash Gronk for the hit, and rightly so. There’s no place for that in football - this game is struggling enough as it is with the new rules and nobody knowing what a catch is for this kind of nonsense to stand.
Let’s get one thing straight, though: Gronk isn’t a dirty football player. He doesn’t have any kind of track record of this behavior the way some players in the league do. Football is an emotional game, and sometimes, you let those emotions take over when cooler heads should have prevailed. It has been well documented at this point that defensive players get away with holding and grabbing onto Gronk in order to slow him down, and refs aren’t going to call it. He gets flagged for OPI far more than he deserves to as well. That isn’t even a complaint, either; I mean I get it. You need to do something to help slow him down so he doesn’t wreak absolute havoc all the time. Gronk isn’t the first player to get this treatment, and he won’t be the last. Anybody who watched Shaq play for the Magic in the 90s will remember him dunking with other players literally hanging off him as the refs stood by and did nothing. Every sport figures out ways to limit the impact athletic freaks can have. And it must be incredibly frustrating for Gronk sometimes, especially when a rookie intercepts a pass intended for you that involved a little bit of questionable contact.
But that doesn’t matter. You absolutely can’t do what he did and expect to get away with it. Gronk clearly wasn’t in his right mind - in fact, if you watch the play you you can actually see the moment where he stops, his human brain shuts off, and his Hulk brain snaps on - but that doesn’t make it excusable by any means. As a result of that hit, Gronkowski was suspended for a game.
Remember that game Gronk was suspended for? That Monday Night loss in Miami? Think the Patriots’ putrid offense could have used him in that one?
It certainly wasn’t a pretty moment. But it was definitely a memorable one, which is why I have it on the list at Number 16.
See Gronk’s hit here.
Full game highlights here.