Rob Gronkowski injury: Patriots place TE on injured reserve

Jared Wickerham

The New England Patriots will push into the playoffs without one of their most reliable targets.

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has been placed on season-ending injured reserve with a torn ACL, according to ESPN's Adam Caplan.

Gronkowski was injured in the third quarter of a Week 14 game against the Cleveland Browns. Defensive back T.J. Ward attempted to bring down the much-larger Gronkowski following a catch, diving at the the tight end's lower body , making contact with his knee.

Ward defended the hit on Monday, turning the focus to the league's policy on high hits. He has been fined multiple times by the league, saying that these type of knee injuries are a byproduct of forcing defensive players to be aware of where they're hitting receivers.

The Patriots signed D.J. Williams to help replace Gronkowski at tight end. Williams was a fifth round pick by the Green Bay Packers in 2011, playing with the Jacksonville Jaguars last year. He will have an opportunity to get reps along with veteran Michael Hoomanawanui.

Tom Brady struggled to find offensive success early in the season with a young group of receivers, and new players signed in free agency. Gronkowski's return from off season back surgery gave him a sure handed receiver, catching 39 passes for 592 yards and four touchdowns in seven games. It's unclear how the team will manage in the playoffs without its star tight end.

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