By: Steve Balestrieri
With all of the tools available to NFL officials and coaches in 2014, why is there no provision in the NFL rulebook for officials or coaches to challenge penalties? Since every scoring play or change in possession is now looked at, once a penalty is called on such a play, it is then a non-challenge situation. It is time for that to change.
In what was a pivotal play in the Patriots – Chargers game on Sunday night, New England cornerback Brandon Browner was penalized 15 yards for laying out a big hit on the Chargers Ladarius Green as he bobbled a pass near midfield.
The play happened midway thru the third quarter with the Bolts holding a narrow 14-13 lead, Green ran across the middle and bobbled the pass from quarterback Philip Rivers. Browner came flying up from his corner position and leveled Green with a thunderous but legal hit with his shoulder to Green’s shoulder. The ball popped straight up and safety Devin McCourty intercepted it and ran it back 56 yards for what would have been a go-ahead Patriots touchdown.
Instead, a flag was thrown on Browner for a helmet-to-helmet hit that wiped out the New England touchdown. The flag was thrown as much for the way Green hit the ground as for the hit itself, something Al Michaels on the play-by-play for NBC alluded to during the broadcast. Green hit the ground hard and suffered a concussion on the play. Just five plays later, the Patriots Akeem Ayers intercepted a Rivers pass that ended the drive and the Patriots scored 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to wrest the victory. But it was a play that could have had far reaching implications.
Had the Chargers gone on to score on that drive, the fourth quarter could have had a noticeable change in momentum in San Diego’s favor and they may have won the game. With playoff seedings on the line, the play could have affected not just New England and SD but others as well. Referee Bill Leavy and his crew should have had the benefit to take another look at the play and review it.
Browner said in interviews that he was just trying to dislodge the ball and lead with his shoulder. He added, “That’s just a part of the game nowadays,” he said. “I think if you make a big hit nowadays, they tend to call a penalty. I felt it was pretty clean, though. I hit him, my shoulder to his chest. That’s just the nature of the game nowadays.” He offered this on his Twitter account.
Bill Belichick has long advocated to the league for coaches to be able to challenge penalties, but for now at least, they cannot. Belichick and the Patriots players on the bench were livid on the sideline during the game, stating that Browner made a shoulder-to-shoulder hit. But on Monday he added his thoughts on the play.
“We coach it exactly the way that’s written in the rule book,” Belichick said. “What we’re allowed to do and what we’re not allowed to do, and that’s exactly the way we coach it. It was a close play. You should probably talk to the crew that called it. We coach whatever the rules are; we coach within the rules. That’s how we coach it.
“You can’t lead with your head, can’t him them above the shoulders. We coach what you’re allowed to do, what you’re not allowed to do. I think that’s the way the players play it. Sometimes it doesn’t always turn out that way, but that’s what we try to do.”
The live feed from NBC (via NFL Game Rewind) shows how devastating the shot was on Green but that in itself is not an illegal act. Could Browner have been flagged for hitting a defenseless receiver? Possibly. But that wasn’t the call. It could also be that Browner’s reputation for big hits as a member of the “Legion of Boom” prior to coming to New England may have had some hand in it as well.
With the far reaching implications of the game, the opportunities for either coach to challenge a penalty should be there for the taking. Imagine a playoff game or Super Bowl being turned on a controversial call such as this one. This is a subject that the NFL Rules Committee should look at fixing this off-season.
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