They failed again Thursday night in Baltimore, opting against ejecting Miami Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso for a hit on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco as Flacco slid at the end of a run.
Alonso’s hit enraged the Ravens and their coach, John Harbaugh. It knocked off Flacco’s helmet and resulted in him leaving the game, replaced by Ryan Mallett, and being placed in the concussion protocol.
CBS reported as the second half began that Flacco had suffered a concussion and had a cut to his ear that required stitches. The officials penalized Alonso but did not eject him.
The competition committee wrote in its report that it “affirms that NFL Game Officials should maintain their current authority in the Playing Rules to eject a player for a flagrant hit to an opponent. The Committee also encourages the League office to suspend the offender, even for a first offense. Beginning with the 2017 season, flagrant fouls will be a point of emphasis, and for such fouls the player is subject to ejection and/or suspension for the first offense. Video examples of these flagrant hits will be provided prior to the season to further educate coaches and players.”
The league office will have the chance to rectify the situation with Alonso, as it did when it issued a two-game suspension for Trevathan. That suspension was reduced to one game on appeal.
In Alonso’s case, Flacco was sliding. It could be argued that Alonso had begun the motion of going to hit Flacco and couldn’t stop. It cannot be argued, at least not very well, that Alonso necessarily needed to drive his shoulder and forearm into the head of a sliding quarterback who had given himself up.
Under NFL rules, a quarterback who slides late, after a defender has committed to hitting him, can be hit but cannot be hit forcibly in the head. It doesn’t have to be a helmet-to-helmet hit — the quarterback cannot be hit in the head. Nothing about the defender’s intent or where the defender might have been aiming is factored in, under the rules. The quarterback cannot be hit in the head. Alonso violated this, and blatantly so.
There is not unanimity of opinion on this.
“Is it a foul? Yes,” former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher said at halftime of the broadcast by CBS and the NFL Network. “Is it flagrant? No.”
Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders also defended the hit by Alonso during the halftime show.
But players and coaches — and former players and coaches — sometimes are the last ones to come around on the way that the sport must now be played, officiated and overseen.
Yes, the game moves quickly. And yes, officials are reluctant to eject players and potentially impact the outcome of a game. But there are bigger issues involved here. This is not the football of 20 years ago or even five years ago. Much more is known now about the consequences of head injuries and the ramifications of such hits. The NFL cannot operate as it did in the past. It has, to its credit, realized that and has changed many things about its rules and about its procedures for dealing with head injuries and attempting to curb the rate at which they occur.
The league maintained that the process worked as it should have worked in Trevathan’s case. When he was not ejected, the league reviewed the hit carefully and suspended him. It undoubtedly will maintain the same if Alonso is suspended for his hit on Flacco.
But then what was the point of saying that officials should feel empowered to eject players for such hits? If they aren’t going to act on the Trevathan hit and they aren’t going to act on the Alonso hit, it’s fair to wonder what it would take for them to eject a player for an illegal hit.
Either the officials need to get over their reluctance to eject players for such hits, or the NFL must allow such in-game decisions to be subject to instant-replay review, as is the case in college. The competition committee always has been reluctant to subject such judgment calls to replay scrutiny. But if its directive is not going to be enforced, it needs to consider taking the next step.