Rob Gronkowski out; tears ACL, MCL

"It was a decision I made just to make a tackle on a big man, and unfortunately he got hurt," Ward said. "But if I would've hit up high, there's a chance I would get fined and all that other stuff. I'm just being safe."

Medical personnel immediately came to Gronkowski's side, and he was eventually taken off the field on a cart. He was unable to put weight on his right leg as he moved from the ground to the cart.

"My intention is never to hurt anyone," Ward said. "That's not what this game is about. That's not how I play. I hate to see guys go down with any type of injury and I just wanted him to know, whether he accepted it or not, it wasn't an intentional hit to injure him. But we have to play this game, we have to play it the way that they force us to, and unfortunately, we incurred an injury for him."

The 24-year-old Gronkowski missed the first six games this season while recovering from offseason back and forearm surgeries. He thrived in the next six games, catching 37 passes for 560 yards and four touchdowns.

The Patriots scored the second most points in the league during the six games he played before Sunday. They had the 22nd-best scoring offense in the league without Gronkowski.

Belichick said Monday he's hopeful the Patriots (10-3) will be able to draw on what they did earlier this season without Gronkowski in the lineup.

"I'd like to think there's going to be some carryover there. Not only [was] it the first six weeks of the season, but the entire training camp as well. I think that's the way we practiced and played most of the year, including the preseason, that's 10 games," he said.

"It was great to have him back and he was obviously a big contributor for us because he's an outstanding player. I hope that his situation isn't as serious as what it might be, but if it is, then I'm sure it'll be some combination of what we've already done this year, or maybe because we have a few different players and we're at a different point of the season, it may be some different things, too."

Signed to a lucrative contract extension during the 2012 offseason, Gronkowski has become a centerpiece of the Patriots' offense. He set an NFL record for tight ends with 17 receiving touchdowns during the 2011 regular season.'s Field Yates contributed to this report.

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