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T.J. Ward: I didn’t intend to injure Rob Gronkowski

12.08.13 at 6:35 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Standing at his locker following a shocking 27-26 loss to the Patriots — a game the Browns led by 12 with less than two minutes to play — Cleveland safety T.J. Ward stood in discouragement not only about the loss, but also because of his hit on Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski in the third quarter.

After Gronkowski hauled in a pass from quarterback Tom Brady and scampered up the left side, Ward came in from his safety position and hit the tight end low and hard, striking him in the right knee. Gronkowski was unable to get up on his own and was taken off the field in a cart with what is believed to be a serious right knee injury.

Cleveland safety T.J. Ward (43) takes out Rob Gronkowski (87) with a hit to his lower right leg. (AP)

Cleveland safety T.J. Ward (43) takes out Rob Gronkowski (87) with a hit to his lower right leg. (AP)

With the way the rules have been altered in the last few years and number of fines handed out due to hits targeting the head, defensive players now are more conscious of that when making tackles and therefore are attacking players’ lower bodies when making tackles.

“I think they ran a seam route and it was a decision I made just to make a tackle on a big man and unfortunately he got hurt,” Ward said of the play. “If I would have hit him up high, there was a chance I would have been fined and all that other stuff, so I’m just being safe.”

Ward also noted that with him being 5-foot-10, 200 pounds, and Gronkowski being 6-foot-6, 265 pounds, no matter what he did he was likely going to have to hit the tight end low, especially only having a split second to make a decision.

“It’s not a decision where I am going to go low on every player — no it’s not — but actually, it has kind of turned into that in that split-second decisions where I have a guy running down the field who is 280 [pounds] and I am 200,” he said. “And the fact that if you do even it him in the chest and he even decides to hunch down or flinch, or lower his head then I have the chance of being fined.”

The four-year veteran acknowledged he and other defenders are put into a tough spot when going to make tackles because of the increased number of fines for hits to the head.

“Yeah, it’s being caught between a rock and a hard place,” Ward said. “It is a decision you have to make, but you have to follow the rules at the same time. Gronk is a big dude, he is not small by any means, so already he has that height where it just makes it difficult. I mean, I made a tackle and unfortunately he got hurt. If he would’ve got up there would be no discussion about this right now.”

Despite following the rules, Ward showed remorse for Gronkowski and even went to check on him when he was leaving the field on the cart.

“My intention is never to hurt anyone, that’s not what this game is about, that’s not how I play,” Ward said. “I hate to see guys go down with any type of injury and when I saw that I just wanted him to know, whether he accepted it or not, it wasn’t an intentional hit. We have to play this game. We have to play it the way they’ve forced us to. Unfortunately, it occurred in an injury for him.”

Ward has been fined three times in his four years in the league because of illegal hits, something that likely went through his head when making the split-second decision of where to hit the Patriots tight end.

“I’ve been fined three times, and I don’t like playing for free,” Ward said. “If you asked anybody in this league if they like playing for free, the answer is no, and repeat offenders, they are starting to suspend people for the year. I can’t risk that; I won’t risk that. I have to play within the rules.”

Browns cornerback Joe Haden came to the defense of his fellow secondary member, saying Ward was just playing within the new rules of the game that have been established and enforced.

“It’s a focus to tackle low because you don’t want to get fined,” Haden said. “You want to play within the rules, and I feel so bad he went down like that, but T.J. did everything he needed to do to play within the rules. If he goes up top he’s going to get fined and they are going to take away a lot of money and throw a flag on the play. That’s they way they want us to do it now.

“I feel so bad for Gronkowski, but at the same time T.J. is doing what he has to do, playing within the rules and that’s just going to happen.”

Read More: Browns, Joe Haden, Patriots, Rob Gronkowski
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