Jaguars safety Barry Church was penalized for a hit he put on Rob Gronkowski during Sunday’s AFC Championship game, which resulted in the Patriots tight end suffering a concussion, and missing the remainder of the contest.
It happened late in the second quarter of the game, when Church was attempting to break up a pass intended for Gronk, but did so with his helmet. The Jaguars safety delivered a shot to the side of Gronk’s helmet, which left the Patriots tight end visibly woozy afterward, and resulted in Church getting hit with a penalty for unnecessary roughness. Gronkowski then entered concussion protocol and made his way to the locker room for a full evaluation. It was later announced in the third quarter that Gronkowski would miss the remainder of the game with a concussion.
The Patriots clearly missed Gronk’s presence on the field, as the team was forced to play without its best offensive weapon for the remainder of the second quarter, and for the entire second half as well. And while it’s difficult to gauge Church’s intent, it sure looked like he was attempting to knock the Patriots star out of the game, similar to what the Titans did to Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce in the Wild Card Round.
Church defended himself when asked about the hit by reporters after the game, saying that he was just trying to jar the ball loose.
“I just tried to dislodge the ball,” Church said, via Joshua Shrock of NESN. “He’s a big dude and I was trying to dislodge the ball, but I guess 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 knee, you’re considered a dirty player, and if you go high, they throw the flag at you.”
“It was a bang-bang play and I was just trying to play football,” he said. “I tried to lead with my shoulder.”
The Patriots managed to emerge victorious, 24-20, due to a strong defensive showing in the second half, and some stellar throws by Tom Brady, but pulling off the comeback win without Gronkowski was no easy task.