Yes, of course Rob Gronkowski will be suspended for going full-on WWE heel in the waning minutes of the Patriots’ victory Sunday and drilling unsuspecting Bills defensive back Tre’Davious White so hard after the whistle that the rookie reportedly ended up in concussion protocol.
You, me, and Jerry Jones know how Roger Goodell’s NFL operates. Every single one of the “gates’’ during his tenure – Deflategate, Bountygate, Spygate, whatever – has become amplified because of the commissioner’s backward quest to look like he’s doing the right thing rather than actually doing it. He has an extraordinary knack for making a big story bigger and a lousy situation lousier.
Since America’s sports fans became aware of the term Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy when so many names we knew from their Sunday afternoon star turns began dying by their own hand, the NFL, sickeningly complicit in discarding its ailing alumni, has tried desperately to convince the paying customers that they care about players’ health.
Given that White was so far out of it after the cheap shot that he probably could have been convinced Buffalo is one of America’s most bucolic cities, it’s fair to conclude that Gronkowski has provided the league with a golden opportunity to ratchet up the sanctimony and appear as though it cares. I’d set the over/under on Gronkowski getting a one-game ban, though I think we’ve all been surprised by the length of Goodell mandated suspensions involving Patriots before.
Make no mistake, Gronkowski does deserve a one-game suspension. He didn’t quite go Full Burfict there, but it was a dirty play, and White was injured, and his own coach, Bill Belichick, told Bills coach Sean McDermott that it was a “b.s.’’ play during the postgame handshake. There should be real consequences, something Gronkowski seemed to realize sometime between the hit and the walk to the locker room.
“First of all, I definitely want to apologize to No. 27 [White],’’ he said. “I’m not in the business of that. There was a lot of frustration. I was just really frustrated at that moment and it just happened naturally through emotions and frustrations. I just want to apologize to Tre’Davious White. I don’t really believe in any types of shots like that but just through the frustration process — the game of football — emotions, [that’s] what happened.’’
It was jarring to see Gronkowski, a brute on the field but a genuinely affable soul, lose it like that. It reminded me of mild-mannered David Banner’s ominous warning on the old Incredible Hulk television show. “You won’t like me when I’m angry.’’ Gronkowski morphed into the Hulk, minus the chlorophyll.
Everyone has a tipping point. Gronkowski, who clearly believes he is officiated more stringently because of his overpowering physicality, reached his Sunday. He was flagged for multiple penalties in the second half while the Bills relentlessly clutched and grabbed him without repercussions. Instead of throwing a Bills defender out of the club, his description of blocking Colts defensive back Sergio Brown into oblivion years ago, he lost his cool.
“He was trying to push me a little bit . . . I just don’t understand why there wasn’t a flag,’’ he said afterward. “A couple times in the game. They are calling me for the craziest, craziest stuff ever and it’s just like, crazy. I mean, like what am I supposed to do? And then they don’t call that, I mean. It was just frustration and that’s what happened.’’
Provided Gronkowski is suspended for just a game, it could be a small blessing for the Patriots. It would be unjust if he missed the matchup with the Steelers in two weeks, and it’s hard to fathom the league would want such a marquee player to miss such a marquee matchup. But if he’s absent for the Monday night rematch with the Dolphins? The Patriots should prevail without him, even if we sometimes underestimate how tough it is to beat even mediocre Miami teams on their own turf.
Better, it keeps him out of harm’s way for a week. One of the significant satisfactions of this Patriots season so far is that Gronkowski, whose 2016 season was abbreviated to eight games because of a back injury, he has remained healthy. His performance Sunday (9 catches, 147 yards, total dominance after Josh McDaniels unleashed him in the second half) is just the latest reminder that he is one of the most dynamic and distinctive talents in the league.
It wouldn’t be the worst outcome in the world for Gronkowski to get a brief hiatus versus Ndamukong Suh, Kiko Alonso, and the notorious Dolphins. Better for Gronkowski, a single-time offender, to avoid the truly dirty players than to get stuck with the label of being one himself.