FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Patriots will need to finish the AFC championship game without All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski after Gronkowski was drilled on a helmet-to-helmet hit by Jacksonville Jaguars safety Barry Church.
Gronkowski was immediately taken back to the Patriots’ locker room after appearing wobbly on the field after the hit. He was ruled out of the game by the time the AFC title game hit the fourth quarter, with the Jacksonville Jaguars up 20-10.
Rob Gronkowski (head) has been downgraded to out. #JAXvsNE
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) January 21, 2018
It happened on a first-down play from the New England 40: Tom Brady, whose much-talked-about thumb appears to be fine, threw a seam pass for Gronkowski that was a little in front of the tight end but he lunged and appeared to make the catch.
Church came in from the middle of the field and hit Gronkowski helmet-to-helmet, and Gronkowski couldn’t hang onto the ball.
Church was flagged for a 15-yard unnecessary roughness call, but was lucky he wasn’t also penalized for taunting, as he briefly stood over Gronkowski after the hit and waved his towel after the penalty was called.
Gronkowski went to the locker room and was evaluated by the independent neurologist before he was officially ruled out.
As the play happened with roughly 90 seconds left in the first half, Gronkowski had halftime to get his bearings, assuming he would be allowed back on the field. At the start of the third quarter, the Patriots announced a head injury for Gronkowski and that his return was questionable.
While the NFL has made a concerted effort to eliminate, or at least reduce, head shots in recent years, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman thought Church was in a no-win situation:
The hit on Gronk is the only way Church could have done his job without just obliterating Gronks knee. If he would have just hit him low most ppl would calm him dirty. So there is nothing he can do to make everyone happy and do his job. Unless you think he should let him catch
— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) January 21, 2018
“The hit on Gronk is the only way Church could have done his job without obliterating Gronks knee,” Sherman wrote on Twitter. “If he would have just hit him low most (people) would call him dirty. So there is nothing he can do to make everyone happy and do his job. Unless you think he should let him catch.”
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