The conversation about NFL player safety crescendoed Sunday after Rob Gronkowski suffered a season-ending hit to the knee. The Patriots tight end tore his ACL and suffered MCL damage in the right knee after Browns safety T.J. Ward went low on the tackle.
Ward's position was a direct result of the league's decision to crack down on hits to the head and neck of offensive players. The justification was not an easy one to swallow as Gronkowski got carted off the field, however.
Bill Belichick refused to say after the game whether he thought Ward's hit was questionable.
He did have this to say on Tuesday's conference call: "We've made an awful lot of changes to the game here in the last few years to supposedly make it better. But we had a pretty good game."
The current trouble with tackling in today's NFL is clear-cut: Hit high and you risk helmet-to-helmet contact and the consequent fine. So defenders cut low.
“It’s kind of being caught between a rock and a hard place," Ward insisted Sunday night. "It’s a decision you have to make, but you have to follow the rules at the same time. When they set the rule, everyone knew what was going to happen. This can happen if you have those types of situations. It’s pretty much inevitable, and they forced our hand with this one."
The rule changes had the best of intentions, as an effort to reduce concussions and brain trauma. But knee injuries are a consequence, however unintended, that is getting more and more difficult to ignore.
Gronkowski's was the 40th ACL injury of the season, according to ESPN. The tally represents a 60-percent increase from 2011's as defenders have changed tactics to avoid penalties and fines for hits above the shoulders.
Belichick was asked Tuesday if he believes the NFL should make tackles at or below the knee illegal as well.
"Probably not really a question for me," the coach responded gruffly. "That's something you should probably refer to the league and the rules committee and all that. I guess you could make it anything you want because that's what it is right now. Whatever it's made to be, that's what it is, so I'm sure you could make it whatever you want."