FOXBORO -- During the tail end of the season, Rob Gronkowski was probably the league’s most unstoppable skill player. If any team was going to beat the Patriots, it needed to stop Gronk.
The Jaguars stopped Gronk on Sunday. They still didn’t win.
PATRIOTS 24, JAGUARS 20
The Patriots tight end was driven from the game by a helmet-to-helmet hit from Jaguars safety Barry Church. Gronk, running down the seam on a first-and-10 play with 1:28 left in the half, was hammered by Church, who really didn’t have a lot of options on the play. The throw was too up-for-grabs for Church to ignore the chance of picking it off. And by the time a pick was out of the question, the collision was inevitable.
“I just tried to dislodge the ball,” Church explained. “He’s a big dude and I was just trying to dislodge the ball but I gueess they felt it was too high of a hit. I hope he’s healthy. I know he didn’t come back so I hope he’s alright. It was a tough call but you have to go with what they call. It’s the toughest play in football. If you go low for the knees you are considered a dirty player and if you go high, they throw the flag at you. It’s a bang-bang play and I was just trying to play football. I tried to lead with my shoulder.”
Gronk was slow to rise and when he did, he was unsteady. Teammate Chris Hogan kept Gronk steady until he got some assistance to the sideline. From there, we was squired to the locker room and into the concussion protocol. He didn’t return.
The hit, the flag and the fact the Patriots would soon score a touchdown to chew into the Jaguars lead caused the inevitable discussion of what Chruch was supposed to do on that play.
Church had the same debate himself.
“It’s tough, that guy s humongous,” said Church. “If you wait for him to catch it and bring it down, he might run you over. You have to go with it and try and hit him in the right target zone but, going 100 MPH, that is nearly impossible.”
Gronk wasn’t spotted in the locker room after the game. He’ll have checkpoints to pass before he’s cleared to play in Super Bowl 52.