When it comes to two of the fiercest competitors in the NFL, the respect between Earl Thomas III and Rob Gronkowski is mutual.

After Sunday night’s game, Gronkowski explained in his postgame press conference that ET III’s hit on him in the second quarter was one of the hardest he’s ever been drilled. It takes a lot to bring down New England’s star tight end, but No. 29 broke on the ball like a missile and delivered a bullseye to the target on Gronk’s chest.

“That was a big hit for sure; probably one of the hardest I’ve got hit in my career for sure,” Gronkowski told reporters. “[It was] by a good player; a good fast player who’s like a missile. It was a good, clean hit. Nothing against it.”


Gronkowski was noticeably shaken up on the play and had to leave the game, but the resilient superstar later returned to action.

“I just took it and it just knocked the wind out of me a little bit,” the tight end explained. “If you’ve ever gotten the wind knocked out of you, you know what that feels like. Just down for about a minute or two, it’s a little tough to breathe, but once it comes back, you’re good.”

Even Earl himself referred to the play as one of the best he has ever made. That says a lot for a player who has made a living off of terrorizing opposition with jarring hits over the course of his illustrious career.

“Probably one of the best plays I ever made in my career,” Thomas said. “It wasn’t a pick, but it was technique-sound, I trusted myself and I made the play.”

One of reasons the hit can be celebrated and not discouraged was because it was the epitome of a clean play from the hard-hitting Seattle safety. Thomas didn’t leave his feet nor lead with the crown of his helmet. The target-zone was also right in the chest area, exactly how the league encourages it instead of aiming for the head or neck.

“That was as perfectly legal and safe as you can make it,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “That’s the way the game should be played, right there. That’s what we refer to as a strike-zone hit, and you saw Earl hit, leading with the shoulder to protect both himself and Gronk from getting hit in the head, and that is absolutely the way that we teach it.”

A couple days after the game, No. 29 took to social media share his admiration for a fellow beastly competitor. There have been varying reports that Gronkowski is dealing with possible chest bruise or a punctured lung, and the tight end missed practice Wednesday, so Thomas tweeted out that he hopes to see Gronk back on the field soon.

Later that night, Gronkowski responded to Earl’s tweet and admitted that the Longhorn Legend certainly got him good. Despite having more than 60 pounds on Thomas, the Patriots playmaker wasn’t going to shy away from crediting ET III for getting the best of him. He also applauded Earl for treating the fans at Gillette Stadium to a real football hit.

The mutual respect Thomas and Gronkowski have for each other runs deeper than just those two players. Coach Carroll noted the high-level of respect shared between both the Seahawks and Patriots organizations that was visible on game day.

“I thought there were a lot of illustrations (of mutual respect),” Carroll said. “You saw some of those guys picking each other up and stuff. I’m just going to assume the way Coach Belichick talked to his team was the way we talked to our team. We had a lot of respect for this club and the players and the coaches. I think the players demonstrated that throughout. This was a very clean game and a very upfront game. You saw illustrations of recognition of guys on the other teams a number of times. That’s a beautiful thing.”