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Ask PFW: Gronk's suspension

Fans' questions answered in our weekly PFW mailbag

How long will the appeal of [Rob Gronkowski]'s suspension take to be heard? Is there any possibility that it goes into next week and if it's upheld he misses the Steelers [game] rather than the Dolphins? Len Carmody

Gronk is suspended for the Miami game, but evidently plans to appeal. Couldn't that create a risky scenario where he ends up playing against the Dolphins, but then events develop where he misses the all-important Steelers game? J.C. Cohen

Gronkowski's appeal is said to be taking place today over the phone with NFL representatives in New York. My guess is we'll know very soon thereafter – before week's end, I would imagine – whether or not it is amended or upheld. Based on the way recent suspension appeals have gone, it seems the NFL has set a precedent of automatically instituting a stiffer punishment than it intends in order to grant the player's request for a reduction of the sentence.

If this continues to hold true in Gronk's case, I expect his suspension to be knocked down to just a fine. I don't think he'll miss any game time due to this unfortunate incident. Erik Scalavino

A one-game suspension against the Dolphins is not going to hurt us too bad.  I say just get the suspension over with, and then [Gronkowski will] be good and rested up against Pittsburgh (where we REALLY need No. 87).Gary Aiken

You might feel differently, Gary, if you had Gronkowski's contract, which is heavily based this season on playing time and productivity incentives. He stands to lose a significant amount of money if he were to miss a game or more.

Besides, I don't believe in taking any opponent lightly, nor does Bill Belichick. I want all my best players available at all times, if possible, as does he. Therefore, it behooves Gronkowski – and the Patriots – to exhaust every attempt to wipe out this suspension as soon as possible. Erik Scalavino

Am I just a homer or do you agree that the play against Buffalo on which Gronk retaliated and got called for a justified unnecessary roughness penalty typified the ways in which Gronk is manhandled play in and play out by outclassed defenders who rarely get flagged when it's Gronk they're fouling? I counted two holds and one pass interference on Tre'Davious White on that play alone. And I see people hanging all over Gronk week after week with utter impunity, while if Gronk uses his upper body strength to get separation he is routinely called for offensive P.I. Are the refs trying to even the playing field? Can BB send the league film of what even [CBS analyst] Tony Romo and other unbiased commentators regularly call out as terrible officiating on Gronk's plays? Evan Carton

It sickens me to see a New England player commit an obviously dirty play like Gronk did this past week. I know that Gronk has to deal with a lot of physical and probably dirty play throughout the game due to his size and skill, but he needs to be better. I am surprised he wasn't ejected. Players get thrown out for throwing a punch at someone wearing a helmet, but not for dropping a 250-lb. hammer on a defenseless player's head like Gronk did? Gronk's behavior is defenseless in this case. Nate Ellsworth

Evan and Nate are both right. Gronkowski's behavior following that play is utterly indefensible, and he realized it almost immediately, as his postgame comments – for which I had a front-row seat – attest. He was clearly sorry for what he did.

At the same time, he became visibly upset as he recounted what he (and many others) believes is a pattern of poor officiating with regard to him, specifically, which he cited as the reason for his uncharacteristic outburst. Gronk is virtually unguardable by one or even two defenders, who often have to rely on illegal tactics to have any chance of preventing him from catching the football. White very much committed at least two fouls against Gronk while the ball was in the air and should have been flagged for them, which would have wiped out his interception on that play and avoided Gronk's ensuing eruption.

Gronkowski has also been the recipient of a number of questionable hits in the past, so, in some ways, it's surprising he hasn't lashed out against an opponent like this before. That said, I, too, was surprised he wasn't ejected from the game right then and there. As much as his actions can be explained, they cannot be excused. He must pay some sort of price for what he did.

In the meantime, I hope the league's officiating crews start to become more consistent in their treatment of all players when it comes to making proper penalty calls on the field. Erik Scalavino

I keep waiting to see more production from [WR Phillip] Dorsett. He looks to be a very good receiver, but just isn't getting the targets I expected. Has he not earned Brady's trust yet? Do you think we'll see more going his way in the future?Tim Gravelle, O'Fallon, IL

Hey guys thanks as always for everything you do keeping Patriots fans informed throughout the season. I'm very curious as to why Phillip Dorsett and Tom Brady seem to have zero chemistry on field together? Dorsett has elite speed and quickness and by all accounts works hard to acclimate to the offense, but it seems that Brady rarely ever targets him or even looks his way. I understand the Patriot offense is notoriously difficult to grasp. Is this the problem or does Tom not feel comfortable throwing to him?Michael Pizzoli

In my estimation, Dorsett's relative lack of targets is less his fault than a byproduct of Brady having so many other weapons, with most of whom he has more experience working and therefore a greater degree of comfort. Again, this is not to suggest that Dorsett is not trustworthy. He's made plays on the occasions he's seen the football thrown his way, but with Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, and now three capable running backs in Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, and James White all contributing in the passing game (and let's not forget the injured Chris Hogan, who hopes to return soon), there aren't many more balls to spread around. That, to me, is the primary reason we aren't seeing more of Dorsett. Erik Scalavino

Do you think the release of Cassius Marsh and claiming of Eric Lee was a performance or a schematic decision?Hunter Oleson

Based on Lee's first two outings as a Patriot, the answer is obviously performance. Lee has accomplished more on the field in such a short time (a pair of sacks, an interception, a batted pass) than Marsh did in half a season's work. Lee also looks like a more solid player in terms of his body structure, which is preferable for the defensive end position that these two men share. Lee seems better equipped to hold up to bigger offensive linemen than Marsh did. At least, that's how it's looked in this small sample size. Hopefully, Lee will continue to improve and make more plays for this emerging Patriots defense as we close in on the postseason. Erik Scalavino

What is happening with [RB Mike] Gillislee and [WR Chris] Hogan? Are these guys going to play again soon? They were certain spark plugs for a while and I'd like to see them again. Just curious because I cannot find any information on them.Jeff Culler

Hogan hasn't practiced since injuring his right shoulder in Week 8 against the L.A. Chargers. He was spotted one day last week heading to the practice fields, presumable to do rehabilitation and conditioning work, but I imagine we'll see him back in action sooner rather than later.

Gillislee, meantime, has been a healthy scratch since the bye week. He's not injured; he's just being outperformed by the trio of backs I mentioned in a previous answer in this week's column. At the moment, there just isn't room for him on the 46-man game day roster. As a result, he's been deactivated over the past month and that trend could continue down the stretch, barring some unforeseen development. Erik Scalavino

The Patriots and Steelers are both at 10-2, but at the moment, as I understand it, the Steelers have the home field advantage. What gives?Paul Lynn

Yes, as things stand today, Pittsburgh holds a slight edge for the No. 1 playoff seed in the AFC over New England. There is a long list of tiebreaking procedures in the NFL, with head-to-head matchups being the ultimate decider. If the Patriots and Steelers still share identical records when the two teams tangle at the confluence of the three rivers later this month, then the winner of that contest will gain (or retain) the edge.

Until then, the next tiebreaker on the list is won-loss record among common opponents. The Steelers and Patriots have thus far faced just one common foe, the Kansas City Chiefs. Pittsburgh beat them in Week 6 after New England fell to the Chiefs in the opener. That, right now, is what separates them in the standings. Erik Scalavino

How big of a loss is it for the team to lose Nate Ebner for the season? Do you think that will have a significant impact on the team's ability to win games? Austin Evans

The Patriots take their special teams more seriously, it would seem, than most clubs in the NFL, judging by the volume of players New England keeps on its roster who fill roles on special teams almost exclusively. Ebner would qualify as such a player, as would co-captain Matthew Slater, Brandon King, and Brandon Bolden, to name the most notable.

Before his unfortunate injury against Miami, Ebner served as a staple on most of New England's special teams units, including as personal protector on the punt team – the guy deepest in the backfield in front of the punter.

Head coach Bill Belichick spoke at length recently about the difficulties of replacing players like Ebner on the various special teams units. It's often not easy just to replace a special teamer one-for-one with another player on the roster. It sometimes takes several players with different skill sets to fill in, and that fill in then creates a domino effect of having to find other players to back them up at their various positions.

The point is, it can get convoluted to replace someone like Ebner, but because the Patriots cross-train their roster from top to bottom and have so many players with special teams capabilities, it won't be as difficult for them to do so as it might for some other clubs. Erik Scalavino

Do you guys think that when Tom [Brady] retires, hopefully as a Patriot, that they will retire the number 12 and hang it in the Hall [at Patriot Place]? I mean, who would want to wear that number after and have such a huge legacy to always be compared to, and have to live up to. Thanks and GO PATS!!Dan Micue

Death and taxes used to be the only certainties in this life. You can now add Tom Brady's both making the Halls of Fame in Foxborough and Canton, plus his jersey number being retired by the Patriots, regardless of whether or not he finishes his career in New England. But it looks like a virtual certainty that he will. So, yes, he will be the last person ever to wear jersey No. 12 for the Patriots. Erik Scalavino

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