3 helmet hits, 3 verdicts. Vontaze Burfict's suspension was easy, but NFL struggles with other incidents

Terez Paylor
Senior NFL writer

In an era when NFL players are often chided by their teams’ public relations staffs for being too honest, you bet your tail I reacted like that way-too-invested wrestling fan when Buffalo safety Micah Hyde said what needed to be said Sunday after Bills quarterback Josh Allen was knocked out of Buffalo’s 16-10 loss by a headshot.

“That’s the first thing that came out of my mouth on the sideline — if one of us did that to 12 [Tom Brady], we wouldn’t have been in the game anymore,” Hyde told reporters. “There’s no way — there’s no way — we would have continued to play in that game.”

You know Hyde has a point when the Bills’ official team account co-signed on it. We’ve all watched the refs protect Brady as there are some benefits that come with being the G.O.A.T., Pats fans. Just own it.

And here’s what’s crazy: while Hyde is correct that a similar hit on Brady would have resulted in being thrown out of the game, officials actually got this call right in real-time (sorry Bills fans, I still love ya).

Allen is a player I’ve defended for the better part of six months, but he was a runner on the play, and when the replay is slowed down, viewers can see that cornerback Jonathan Jones, who was trying to prevent a first down, attempted to lead with the shoulder, in spite of the helmet-to-helmet contact. Because of the helmet-to-helmet contact, he deserved the penalty and maybe a fine, but an ejection would have been overkill – one we all suspect would have nevertheless come if it were Brady getting hit instead.

So yes, there is a double-standard that exists in the NFL regarding helmet-to-helmet hits, and how the NFL still hasn’t figured out how to consistently enforce penalties on such plays.

On Sunday, we saw three different headshot plays get ruled differently, but the NFL got only two of them correct.

The one the officials got wrong happened in Rams-Bucs, when L.A. cornerback Marcus Peters was basically beheaded “Game of Thrones” style by Donovan Smith, who unleashed a massive helmet-to-helmet hit on a pick-six tackle as the refs comically pretended not to notice.

(You just know referee Bradley Rogers saw that hit, briefly thought about throwing the flag before realizing it was Peters, who has a habit of um, chatting up referees, and said, “Nah, I’m good with that.”)

It was the most egregious no-call of the weekend, by far. Had Peters been Brady or any other quarterback not named Cam Newton, Rogers would have thrown Smith out of the game with that Ari Gold steez.

But it wasn’t the most talked about helmet-to-helmet hit of the weekend. That title goes to perennial “dirtiest hit of the year” candidate Vontaze Burfict, whose headshot to Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle was so dirty that even Conrad Dobler was like, “Woo, I don’t know about that one.” Even the officials had the wherewithal to penalize him and throw him out the game faster than Rasheed Wallace after staring down Ron Garretson.

Ridiculous. So much, in fact, that the NFL even announced within 24 hours that Burfict, who was comically named a Raiders captain this year, will be suspended for the rest of the year, as NFL vice president of football operations Jon Runyan explained:

“There were no mitigating circumstances on this play. Your contact was unnecessary, flagrant and should have been avoided. For your actions, you were penalized and disqualified from the game.”

“Following each of your previous rule violations, you were warned by me and each of the jointly appointed appeal officers that future violations would result in escalated accountability measures. However, you have continued to flagrantly abuse rules designated to protect yourself and your opponents from unnecessary risk.”

“Your extensive history of rules violations is factored into this decision regarding accountability measures.”​

Well said, Jon. But hell, you may not have even gone far enough. A case can be made that the play should be the finishing touch on an eight-year career in which he has been suspended four times for 22 games while racking up nearly $5 million in fines and salary lost. Just hand him the Bill Romanowski Lifetime Achievement Award for Dirty Play and send him packing for good.

Even though the league’s actions in the Burfict instance were correct, it shouldn’t get much credit for that. Burfict is an easy target, someone whose reputation precedes him. No one is caping for that guy, making this a great and all-time easy opportunity for the league to throw the book at him, wag its finger and act like it cares about player safety.

If the NFL truly wants to back up its supposed emphasis on player safety there must be greater consistency across the board on headshots, and getting two out of the three calls right this weekend isn’t good enough.

The league approved a rule change in March 2018 that mandated a 15-yard penalty for lowering the head to initiate contact with the helmet of an opponent, so we know officials should be looking for this. Why are we still seeing some go uncalled? As it stands in the NFL, there’s still too much room for interpretation, too much room for judgment calls. Unless, of course, it involves an established cheap-shot artist like Burfict or a national treasure like Brady.

Everybody else? Well, let’s just say it would behoove them to start pulling a Micah Hyde and start “sayin’ what needs to be said” until the league’s enforcement efforts catch up to speed.

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