ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Rob Gronkowski’s after-the-whistle elbow to the head of Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White on Sunday clearly was a dirty play. Even Bill Belichick was willing to admit that.
The question now is whether the cheap shot was worthy of a suspension.
Before we dig too deep into Gronkowski’s situation, here’s a look at the seven players who have been suspended this season for on-field actions:
— Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib and Oakland Raiders wide receiver Michael Crabtree: one game apiece for fighting (appealed down from two games).
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans: one game for a late shove on New Orleans’ Marshon Lattimore.
— Minnesota Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo: one game for a hit to the head on Baltimore’s Mike Wallace.
— Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch: one game for leaving the bench and shoving an official.
— Chicago Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan: one game for a hit to the head on Green Bay’s Davante Adams (appealed down from two games).
— Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict: three games for an illegal hit on Kansas City’s Anthony Sherman.
The closest comp on that list to Gronkowski’s penalty was Evans’ hit on Lattimore, as Sendejo’s, Trevathan’s and Burfict’s infractions all occurred in the flow of play, Lynch’s involved a referee, and Talib and Crabtree’s was a legitimate fight, not a hit on a defenseless player. Burfict also has an extensive history of rule-breaking, which led to his suspension being much more severe than the others.
Evans committed his penalty in defense of a teammate, though — Lattimore and Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston were squawking at one another near the sideline — while Gronkowski’s simply was, as he admitted, an act of frustration.
It is, however, relevant that Evans was not ejected from that game, just as Gronkowski was not thrown out Sunday. The folks in charge of NFL discipline often treat an ejection as a de facto suspension, as evidenced by the fact A.J. Green and Jalen Ramsey weren’t banned for a game after they were ejected for throwing punches earlier this season.
White’s injury status also likely will be a contributing factor, whether the league admits it or not. The hit forced the rookie to enter concussion protocol, meaning he could miss time for Buffalo.
It’s also worth noting that Gronkowski never has been suspended by the NFL, though he has been slapped with a few fines, including one for throwing then-Indianapolis Colts safety Sergio Brown “out of the club” back in 2014. He also was fined for his role in the brawl broke out during the final minute of Super Bowl XLIX.
Gronkowski apologized to White after Sunday’s game, saying he “(doesn’t) really believe in the type of shots like that.”
The tight end caught nine passes on 11 targets for 147 yards as the New England Patriots blew out the Buffalo Bills 23-3 at New Era Field. Losing him for even one game would be a significant blow to the Patriots’ offense, which lost tight end Martellus Bennett to a season-ending injury last week.
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