Rob Gronkowski Says the Broncos Are ‘Good at Giving Low Blows’

The double entendre is the latest in a war of words between the Broncos and Patriots.

One of the more intriguing storylines heading into Sunday’s AFC Championship isn’t Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning, but rather how the Broncos will look to contain Rob Gronkowski.

On Thursday, Denver cornerback Chris Harris Jr. was asked on SportsCenter how to bring down the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Gronkowski. His response is a confirmation of the Patriots’ worst fears and also represents the unintended consequences of the NFL’s increased player safety rules.

“You gotta hit him low, man—hit him in his knees,” Harris said. “That’s the best chance you have of hitting him.”

In today’s NFL, it’s largely illegal to hit players in the neck or head area—as evidenced by Danny Amendola getting flagged for unnecessary roughness after barreling into Chiefs cornerback Jamell Fleming on a punt return last Saturday. As a result of this, defenders must come up with other ways to stop receivers. The best way to slow down a force like Gronkowski is to chop him at the knees.

That’s what happened Nov. 29, when Broncos safety Darian Stewart dove into Gronkowski’s right knee to break up a pass. Though Gronkowski only wound up missing one week with a knee bruise, the tackle was reminiscent of when former Browns safety T.J. Ward, who now also plays for Denver, hit Gronkowski low in 2013 and shattered his ACL.

With those two incidents likely in his mind, Gronkowski responded to Harris Tuesday night, saying the Broncos are cheap shot artists—or something else, depending on your interpretation.

In addition to Harris’ comments, Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall accused Gronkowski this week of illegally pushing off at the line of scrimmage on pass plays. Those comments harken back to a controversy from earlier in the season, in which Gronkowski was flagged for more offensive pass interference penalties than any other player in the league. Gronkowski tweeted out in early December he agreed the officials were unfairly targeting him, and he hasn’t been called for OPI since.

It’s not unusual for teams to trash talk the Patriots prior to a big game. Denver defensive end Antonio Smith also threw a jab at Brady Tuesday, saying it would be fair to call TB12 a “crybaby.”

But it is out of the ordinary for a member of the Patriots to respond to an opponent’s barbs like Gronkowski did. The last time a Patriots player fed into the noise prior to a playoff game was Wes Welker, who made 11 foot jokes at Rex Ryan’s expense prior to the 2011 Divisional Round matchup between the Patriots and Jets. Bill Belichick wound up benching Welker for the first series of the contest.

It’s unlikely Gronkowski will miss any playing time for his double entendre, but it’s another example that shows he pushes the limits in Foxborough like few others. Being arguably the best tight end to ever play the game seems to buy some freedom of speech.