It was a tense fourth quarter between the Patriots and Bengals at Gillette Stadium on Sunday after the Bengals lost their lead in the third quarter and chippiness set in.
It seemed to start getting heated when Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict went low on Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett, hitting him in the back of his knees.
“Did not see it. I got to watch it now. I don’t even know what play it was. Sometimes you miss,” Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski said. “Your back is turned a lot, so a lot of times you miss a lot of things that’s going on backside. Definitely see that in film. Didn’t affect anything.”
Later in the drive, Tom Brady hit Gronkowski for a 29-yard gain and cornerback Adam Jones was injured on the play. Burfict got in Gronkowski’s face and seemed to be upset over something Gronkowski said or did to Jones. After some back and forth in a scrum, including between running back LeGarrette Blount and Burfict, the sides were separated with no flag.
Brady went back to Gronkowski the very next play for a 12-yard gain to the Bengals’ 8-yard line. Gronkowski’s reaction was enough in the officials’ eyes to draw a taunting penalty.
“But things get a little heated and it was really nothing even really said,” Gronkowski said. “I was just bobbing my head I think and they gave me a personal foul.”
As Blount emphatically congratulated his teammate after the play, Burfict rushed in and Blount shoved the linebacker, who was suspended for the first three games of the year for repeatedly violating player safety rules last season.
The Patriots’ drive ended with a 31-yard field goal.
Gronkowski, who set a career high with seven catches for 162 yards and a touchdown in the Patriots’ 35-17 win, said he takes full responsibility for the personal foul.
“I mean, good thing it didn’t hurt the team in this situation, still got the win, but down the road it can always hurt the team, a personal foul,” he said. “Definitely got to be more aware of that. Take responsibility on my behalf for that penalty.”
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said he didn’t see the sequence of events, but “bottom line we need fewer of those [personal foul penalties].”
It wasn’t the last tussle between Blount and the Bengals. Later in the fourth, Blount and safety Shawn Williams faced off, with Blount getting his fingers inside Williams’s face mask for a shove.
And after Blount scored from 1 yard out with less than a minute left, he shoved Burfict and drew an unnecessary roughness flag as both sides got after each other again. (Meanwhile, Gronk did a little disco dance at the goal line to celebrate.)
Meanwhile, Burfict sought out Bennett after the game for a high five and a hug. Bennett said the linebacker apologized for going after his knees. Burfict did not speak in the Bengals locker room afterward.
“We were just playing football, man,” Bennett said. “It gets like that sometimes. We’ve got guys who don’t back down from anyone and play hard throughout the whole game. That’s just the way it is. We don’t back down. We’re not looking for trouble, but we don’t walk away from trouble either.”
Gronkowski said he didn’t think the Bengals were trying to bait him into a second taunting penalty, which would have resulted in his ejection. But he did say it is something you can expect from Cincinnati.
“They do that every game. If you watch film, they’re always baiting everyone to do that. They’re a tough, physical team, they’re physical football players,” he said. “They’re big and they hit hard. I feel like that’s the style that they play. Kinda gave into it when I got my penalty and got to watch out for that. But after that I just had to stay away, didn’t need a second one and get thrown out of the game. So I was good. I was just clearing myself out.”
Follow Rachel G. Bowers on Twitter @RachelGBowers.