FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has been suspended one game for his late hit on Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre'Davious White, an unsportsmanlike act that seemed to upset coach Bill Belichick.
Gronkowski allowed his frustrations to get the best of him and, in the process, broke one of the first rules Belichick stresses to all Patriots players: Don't put individual agendas ahead of the team.
As Gronkowski said to reporters after Sunday's game, when he apologized to White and explained that he doesn't believe in those types of hits, that what he did "definitely could hurt the team. Obviously it didn't hurt the team there, but it definitely can in the future."
Now it has, at a critical time when the Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers are jockeying for position as the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
Gronkowski plans to appeal the suspension, per a report by ESPN's Adam Schefter, and perhaps have it reduced to just a fine. The hearing would likely be expedited, so there shouldn't be a long wait to find out.
As for what’s ahead, the Patriots travel to South Florida to face the Miami Dolphins on ESPN's Monday Night Football in Week 14, before a highly anticipated Dec. 17 road game against the Steelers. Losing Gronkowski against the Dolphins (5-7) marks a less-than-ideal blow to the Patriots (10-2), but it's one they should still be able to overcome against a team they outclassed in a 35-17 home win on Nov. 26.
Potentially not having him against the Steelers would be something altogether different.
Without Gronkowski, the Patriots will rely more heavily on No. 2 tight end Dwayne Allen, just as they did on Oct. 5 against Tampa Bay, which was the only game Gronkowski didn't play this season (thigh injury). Allen, who has come on in the second half of the season, played a season-high 50 snaps against the Buccaneers.
Furthermore, the Patriots reshape their offensive attack on a week-to-week basis under offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and are adept at tapping assets in other areas when they're without a top player.
For example, they are particularly deep at running back, so Gronkowski's absence could lead to more two-running-back groupings in certain situations; they've had a couple of big plays in recent weeks with both Rex Burkhead and James White on the field at the same time.
The possible return of injured receiver Chris Hogan, who has been out since suffering a right shoulder injury on Oct. 29 but is getting closer to full health, also could soften the blow of being without Gronkowski in the short term.
It goes without saying that the Patriots are always better with Gronkowski on the field, but they've shown a knack for being resourceful without him. Usually it's because of injury, but in this case, it's a rare situation that resulted from Gronkowski's loss of composure.
That can't sit well with Belichick, but it isn't the type of blow that should cripple the Patriots, as long as Gronkowski is on the field Dec. 17 in Pittsburgh.