There is so much confusion over the National Football League's new policing of helmet-to-helmet hits and hits to defenseless receivers that even the officials can't get it right.
No wonder Quintin Mikell was left scratching his head after the Eagles' 26-24 win over Indianapolis on Sunday. He thought he knew the rules, but apparently he doesn't. It appears the men who worked as officials for this game don't know them either, or weren't paying sufficient attention to get one specific call right, with two opportunities to do so.
I get that everyone is freaking out over protecting players from hits to the head. The potential consequences of concussions are terrifying, and doctors and researchers have only scratched the surface in explaining what repeated blows to the brain will mean to the men who play this game.
But there is protection and there is overreaction, and in the Eagles' locker room there is now much confusion.
The play in question happened in the second quarter. Colts quarterback Peyton Manning threw what looked to be a completion to second-year wide receiver Austin Collie, who appeared to catch the ball, take two steps, wrap up the ball and brace for a collision with Mikell. Mikell hit Collie with his shoulder, bouncing Collie into the Eagles' backup safety, Kurt Coleman. One replay showed Coleman's helmet hit Collie in the back of Collie's helmet.
It was inadvertent, but intent doesn't matter.
Nevertheless, the original call was that Mikell hit a defenseless receiver who did not make a catch, despite making a football move with the ball in his hands. After the game, referee Carl Cheffers and back judge Todd Prukop said the call should have been on Coleman for hitting a defenseless receiver, but they never said that there was a helmet-to-helmet hit.
"Well, if he is completing the catch, his second foot is not down yet or it's just down, we still give the defenseless receiver protection," Cheffers said in a pool report. "So, if it is a bang-bang type of play, with his second foot coming down, he still gets protection on that play. The fact of the matter is that the ball was incomplete. So, he has protection throughout that entire process on that play because we don't even have a completion - at no time did he have possession and become a runner to where he would have transitioned out of being a defenseless receiver."
Added Prukop: "[Coleman] makes contact with the shoulder to the back of the helmet of the receiver."
Mikell is. He is a stand-up guy and the farthest thing from a dirty player there is. He uses good technique, is not a headhunter, doesn't launch himself into players and doesn't take cheap shots. He can level a big hit, but he is not about delivering a malicious one.
"To me it looked like, I saw him, he kind of cowered down - not cowered, but he protected himself because he saw us coming," Mikell said, trying to choose his words carefully. "It looked like he had the ball, and I thought we separated him from the ball. I didn't lunge or whatever. I don't know. It's really frustrating, because to me it seemed like a football play, but the refs made that call and we had to go with it."
No one is trying to disrespect Collie or minimize what happened to him. He was on the ground motionless for nearly 10 minutes and had to be taken off the field on a stretcher. It was scary. The Colts reported after halftime that Collie was awake and moving and had a concussion - which, given the alternative, was good news.
But the officials know that they are being watched by the league, which is following up and fining players whether they've been penalized in a game or not. Eagles linebacker Ernie Sims wasn't flagged for a penalty against Tennessee and still got hit last week with a $50,000 fine for a hit against Titans receiver Lavelle Hawkins.
So maybe they're being overly cautious now. Penalize Coleman for a helmet-to-helmet hit. Just get the call right.
There could be more collateral damage from the in-season emphasis on hits.
"I just hate to see them make defensive players put their head down, and then we have a bigger problem," Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said.
There are other views, of course. Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne told Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz he wasn't happy with the Eagles' reaction to the play or the penalty.
"I was looking at their sideline hearing them complaining about the call and cheering about the hit," Wayne said. "But it is what it is. That's not something I want to start. I had plenty to say to them, but I'm going to let it be for now."
DeSean Jackson unquestionably was defenseless when Atlanta's Dunta Robinson hit him a few weeks ago. Still, he chalked up the hit to Collie as just part of football.
"I never wish anybody to get hurt, especially me being in that same position, unconscious on the field," Jackson said. "I was just asking the referee, 'If he gets hit in the shoulder, how was that unnecessary roughness?' You just have to be careful with that stuff. I hope they don't take this rule and try to change football. Let us play."
At the least, minimize the confusion the defensive players are feeling.
"I don't know, maybe we can figure out exactly what's a 'defenseless receiver,' " Mikell said. "We're just playing ball. It was a football play. It's unfortunate."
Contact staff writer Ashley Fox
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