I predicted the Saints would get a safety on San Francisco this past weekend, and they came so close.
But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.
I can’t believe there is really a debate about whether or not Ahmad Brooks hit on Drew Brees was a penalty. Of course it was a penalty; the NFL rule clearly states the quarterback cannot be hit in the head or neck area. This is regardless of intent, and I don’t think anybody can seriously say Brooks did not catch Brees in the neck.
Furthermore he slammed Brees into the turf, which is also explicitly prohibited.
When tackling a passer who is in a defenseless posture (e.g., during or just after throwing a pass), a defensive player must not unnecessarily or violently throw him down and land on top of him with all or most of the defender’s weight. Instead, the defensive player must strive to wrap up the passer with the defensive player’s arms.
But, aside from the letter of the law, these hits have been getting called for years now. How is anybody disputing the call in this case? In the Ravens – Bears game, roughing the passer was called for barely pushing the quarterback in his chest. If you whip your arm at the quarterbacks shoulders and inadvertently catch him in the neck and slam him to the ground, I have a news flash for you – THAT IS A PENALTY. It is that simple. As a defender, you cannot inflict these brutal hits on a quarterback, or any defenseless player. And this was not some phantom love tap from Brooks – it was a brutal hit.
As I listened to Mike and Mike on ESPN Radio this morning I heard Mike Golic and Michael Strahan admit the hit was a penalty by the letter of the rule, but bemoaning the fact that the hit was against the rules. How, they asked, are defenders supposed to do their job if they can’t hit a quarterback like that? A few weeks ago you had Brandon Meriweather saying that if he couldn’t spear his helmet into other players’ heads at full speed, then his only option would be to end guys careers by taking out their knees. As though nothing existed between the head and knees!!! These guys are world class athletes, yet we’re supposed to believe that there is no way they can be successful unless they’re allowed to potentially inflict career and life threatening injuries. It’s called tackle football, not separate-the-guy’s-head-from-his-senses football. What in the world is going on here?
I can’t help but wonder if there are some players who aren’t driven by the love of the game, or competition, or the camaraderie. I wonder if some are driven by the fact that they can commit aggravated assault once a week and not get arrested. There is a gray area between, “hit them hard enough to dislodge the ball” and “get them out of the game”, but there is no doubt which side of the gray area is the wrong one (as a Saints fan I am, sadly, too well aware of this). And some players operate on that side. That is exactly why these rules are in place. It’s why they banned clotheslining players decades ago. It’s not about the “wussification” of the game, or punishing defenders, or turning it into “flag football”. By it’s very nature football is, and always will be, a rough, dangerous game. That’s why you put rules in place to try to make it safer. And these rules protect both players, offense and defense. While Brandon Meriweather seems determined to end someone’s career, it seems the most likely victim will be himself. As it turns out, using your head as a projectile weapon is incredibly dangerous for both parties. In an era when the full effects of concussions and other head trauma are coming to light and past NFL players rightfully question whether the league did enough to protect them, it boggles my mind that so many are upset that they aren’t allowed to potentially cripple a fellow player, a colleague, someone as likely as not to be a teammate the next year.
I don’t blame 49’ers fans for being upset. It was a close, hard fought game and, if that penalty wasn’t called, yes, San Francisco probably would have won the game. But, it was a penalty, the right call, without question. If that was the only way Brooks could get to Brees and get him to the ground, then he didn’t do his job. He didn’t beat his block well enough to get there legally. He instead risked injury to another player and was caught, with the correct punishment handed out. Don’t blame the referee, blame the player.
I will remember this play, and the debate that came from it, as the moment that I firmly decide to stake my ground out on the side of player safety. Even if that means saving them from themselves. Even if it means having a game turning roughing-the-passer penalty called on the Saints that I will have to admit, yes, was the right call. Maybe it wouldn’t have been called 5 or 10 or 15 years ago, but it is called now, and it is called for a good, right reason.
Also, I do love beating the 49’ers. It’s just so choice…