Rob Gronkowski lost his cool and delivered an egregious after-the-play hit on Buffalo’s Tre’Davious White late in New England’s 23-3 win Sunday.
On Monday, the NFL hit back.
The Patriots tight end was suspended for one game — Monday night’s AFC East road tilt against the Miami Dolphins — for placing “an opposing player at risk of serious injury,’’ according to a letter Gronkowski received from NFL vice president of football operations Jon Runyan.
According to a league source, Gronkowski will file an appeal of the suspension, which will be heard by either Derrick Brooks or James Thrash, who were jointly appointed by the NFL and the NFL Players Association. The issue should be resolved before the Patriots return to the practice field Wednesday.
Following White’s interception in the fourth quarter, the 6-foot-6-inch, 265-pound Gronkowski dove onto White’s back, driving his left elbow/forearm into White’s head and neck. The hit sent the 5-11, 192-pound rookie cornerback into the league’s concussion protocol.
Following the game, Gronkowski apologized for the hit and blamed it on the frustrations he has felt for what he believes is unfair treatment from officials.
Gronkowski was called for an offensive pass interference call earlier in the game and also felt he had been held throughout the game, including on the White interception. Video evidence backs up Gronkowski’s claim, as White is clearly seen holding the tight end’s jersey throughout the pattern.
“I just don’t understand why there wasn’t a flag,’’ Gronkowski said after the game. “It was a couple times in the game, and they’re calling me for the craziest stuff ever. And it’s crazy. It’s like, what am I supposed to do? And then they don’t call that [on White].
“It was just frustration, and that’s what happened.’’
An eight-year veteran, Gronkowski has never been suspended before, a point his team will surely emphasize during the appeal process. Gronkowski has been hit with three fines during his career for unsportsmanlike conduct (for infamously throwing Colts safety Sergio Brown “out of the club” in 2014) and twice for taunting (against the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX and the Bengals in 2016).
Coach Bill Belichick declined to comment on the play (“I think Rob addressed it’’) or the suspension (“That’s [the league’s] announcement”) but said he expected a quick resolution.
“It’s 24 hours, something like that,’’ the coach said during an appearance on WEEI Monday afternoon which came, coincidentally, as the penalty was handed down. “It’s a short process. Just what happened last week with Aqib [Talib] and [Michael] Crabtree. It’s two games one day and it was one game [after] the appeal. So it would be similar time frame as I understand it.’’
In the letter to Gronkowski, Runyan said the tight end was guilty of “multiple violations of NFL rules’’ including “running, diving, into . . . or throwing the body against or on a player who is out of the play or should not have reasonably anticipated such contact by an opponent before or after the ball is dead.’’
Gronkowski had been enjoying another successful homecoming — he grew up in nearby Amherst, N.Y. — prior to the incident, catching nine passes on 10 targets for 147 yards. The hit was the lead story on Buffalo news stations Monday morning, and the Buffalo News front page featured a picture of Gronkowski under the headline “Gronked again.’’ The sports section had a picture of the fallen White under the headline, “Down and dazed.’’
Gronkowski was called for four penalties during the game — including unnecessary roughness for the White hit — but was not ejected. He said he was seeking “clarification” during a postgame conversation with referee Gene Steratore and line judge Gary Arthur as players headed to the locker rooms.
“Your actions were not incidental, could have been avoided and placed the opposing player at risk of serious injury,’’ Runyan wrote. “The Competition Committee has clearly expressed its goal of ‘eliminating flagrant hits that have no place in our game.’ Those hits include the play you were involved in.”
If the suspension is upheld, it will have a financial impact on Gronkowski. He will lose a game check worth $250,000 and a game-day roster bonus of $31,250. It also would hurt his pursuit of a $5.5 million incentive level for reaching 90 percent of the snaps, 80 catches, 1,200 yards, or 14 touchdowns.
After Sunday’s performance, Gronkowski has played in 83.4 percent of the team’s snaps (he missed the Buccaneers game in Week 5 with a thigh injury), making 55 catches for 849 yards and seven touchdowns.