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T.J. Ward: Hit on Patriots' Rob Gronkowski was legal

A low hit from Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward cost Rob Gronkowski his season -- and maybe more for the New England Patriots.

Ward wasn't flagged on the play and insists he played fair in Sunday's 27-26 loss to New England.

"When they set the rule, everyone knew what was going to happen," Ward said, per The Plain Dealer. "This can happen if you have those types of situations. It's pretty much inevitable and they forced our hand with this one.

"I've been fined three times, and I don't like playing for free. If you go ask anybody in this league would they like to play for free? No. Repeat offenders, they're starting to suspend people for the year. I can't risk that. I won't risk that. And, I've got to play within the rules, point blank."

Ward lowered his shoulder to stop a 21-yard catch by Gronkowski, who flipped over the safety and landed with a thud before he was carted off by trainers. Cameras showed Ward huddling with Gronk as he was taken away.

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"I just wanted him to know, whether he accepted it or not, it wasn't an intentional hit to injure him," Ward said. "But we have to play this game the way that they force us to, and unfortunately it (resulted) in an injury for him ... I honestly prayed for him 'cause it looked bad the way they were over there."

There were more than a few bad calls in New England on Sunday, but Ward's tackle was handled correctly by the officials. He hit Gronk within the strike zone outlined by a league that promises weighty fines for helmet-to-helmet contact.

"You saw what T.J. did today and you saw the outcome of it," said fellow Browns defensive back Jordan Poyer. "I don't know what else they want us to do."

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