Despite 'big blow,' Kraft doesn't blame Bill

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft on Tuesday called losing tight end Rob Gronkowski “a really big blow to us,” but unlike some critics does not place blame on Bill Belichick for sending his top pass catcher out for the play on which he suffered his broken forearm.

The play was a P.A.T. attempt late in the fourth quarter, when the team was up by 34 points. Coach Bill Belichick has defended the way he managed that situation, saying Monday that “football players play football. You tell me which guys are going to get hurt and I’ll get them out of there.”

“He does make a good point,” Kraft said of Belichick in a Tuesday interview with Mike Lupica on ESPN New York Radio (listen to it here, around the 9-minute mark). “I’ve had this discussion (with Belichick) previous years, taking (Tom) Brady out or whatever, and he says, and I think it’s a valid point, when you start taking players out -- and you’re saying this guy stays in, he’s not as important as the other guy -- remember going back to that ’01 Super Bowl, we’ve always put team first and trying to treat everybody -- no matter where they stand on the pecking order -- the same, you can’t do it differently. I now accept that even though it hurts to see what happened to Gronk.”

Kraft also called Gronkowski “a great guy.”

“In our next life we all,” Kraft continued, “if we’re not Brady we want to come back as Gronk.”

The Patriots’ owner also said the Patriots-Jets rivalry is “tremendous,” no matter where the teams are in the standings.

“You love the rivalry, you love the enmity that goes both ways,” he said. “They are always great games. The Jets always play us tough, they have a great coach down there. I understand how the fans relate to him. He sort of personifies the paradigm of the team. … There’s something about the Patriots-Jets game that puts it on the map as something special.”