Rob Gronkowski thinks referees are targeting him for offensive pass interference penalties

Rob Gronkowski has been called for offensive pass interference penalties five times this season, which leads the NFL. Why he's been called so many times is anyone's guess, but he's starting to believe league officials are out to get him.

His tweet leads to a link that features a clip of The Boston Herald's Jeff Howe on 98.5 The Sports Hub's "Toucher & Rich" this morning. Howe also believes that the referees are closely watching Gronk, and that it's becoming blatantly obvious.

“There is no question about that. There is not even a debate, especially after that fourth quarter OPI called on Sunday. That closed the book on that debate; they are going after Rob Gronowski,” Howe said. “He didn't even initiate the contact and was penalized on that play. That was the worst penalty, up there with the Malcolm Butler PI [against the Giants]. Those are the two worst penalties I've seen called this season against the Patriots.”

With the call that went against Gronkowski in the fourth quarter, where he didn't initiate any contact, an argument can be made that Gronkowski is being looked at under a microscope.

Christopher Price of points out that from 2011 until 2014, Gronkowski was only called for offensive pass interference once.

Not counting calls that were declined or offset, from 2011 through 2014 he was flagged for one offensive pass interference call. Through 11 games in 2015, he’s been flagged five times, tops in the league. Five times. If the sheer number doesn’t amaze you, consider the fact that Gronkowski’s five OPI calls taken is more than 30 other teams in the NFL. Four teams haven’t been called for OPI at all this season. (As a team, the Patriots have been flagged nine times, most in the league, and have lost an average of just over eight yards per game because of those penalties.)

In no way am I saying the NFL or its officials are out to get the Patriots, because I don't believe in that theory and never have. However, it does raise some eyebrows as to why Gronkowski has been flagged for this so much. Is it because other teams have complained they can't cover him? That's another argument.

Offensive pass interference usually happens on one of two occasions: when a player impedes a defender’s ability to play pass defense, usually via an illegal pick, or when a pass catcher is perceived to have pushed a defender out of the way prior to the arrival of the pass. (The offensive player has to initiate the contact in this case.) More often than not this season, Gronkowski has been called for the latter.

Of the five times that he's been called, there are probably two calls that were 100% right. In the Oct. 29th game against Miami, Gronk was flagged for clearly pushing off on Dolphins safety Reshad Jones. In the Nov. 15 game against the Giants, Gronkowski was again flagged for pushing off on the Giants' Trevin Wade.

ESPNBoston's Mike Reiss has a great article that goes into detail about each call that's been made against Gronkowski, which you can read in full here.

The uptick in offensive pass interference calls against Gronk have hindered his production a bit. Before he was injured Sunday night, Gronk had six receptions on 10 targets for 88 yards and a touchdown. The week before against Buffalo, Gronk was limited to two catches for 37 yards on seven targets. Against Washington, Gronk had another quiet day, catching four balls for 47 yards.

For the most part, he's been doing the same things he's always done on the field and it's strange that it's an issue all of a sudden. Unless there was some sort of rule change that none of us are aware of, I'm fearful of seeing a flag every time Gronkowski catches the ball, and that shouldn't be the case if his style hasn't changed.

Has his production dipped solely because of these calls? No. To me, it has more to do with the Patriots' offensive line being in flux. In the last few weeks, Gronk, Michael Williams and Scott Chandler have all been used as blockers at different points.

The Patriots did a good job of getting him involved on the first drive of the game against Denver, where he scored his touchdown, but he was relatively quiet after that.

Has Gronk been unfairly targeted? I'm inclined say yes. Is it his fault? In some cases it is, but not all the time. That being said, blaming the officials for these things, even if they're wrong, is a losers way out. Officiating across the board has been pretty bad this season, so the Patriots aren't the only ones who can complain.

Of course they have an argument, but theirs is less likely to be taken seriously in the court of public opinion because of the overwhelming hatred they receive. Whether the Pats are right or wrong, that's just the way things are.

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