Fallout from weekend of big hits – Harbaugh backs suspensions for players who deliver hits

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he would back the NFL in suspending players who deliver helmet-to-helmet hits.

Vice president of football operations Ray Anderson told The Associated Press Monday that the league is considering suspending players in an effort to prevent and discourage the kind of violent hits that popped up in several games Sunday.

"There's strong testimonial for looking readily at evaluating discipline, especially in the areas of egregious and elevated dangerous hits," Anderson said in a phone interview. "Going forward, there are certain hits that occurred that will be more susceptible to suspension."

Harbaugh concurred with Anderson, calling it a safety issue.

"I think we're all responsible to adhere to the rules, the letter of the law and the spirit of the law as much as we can — especially when it comes to injuries," Harbaugh said during his weekly new conference Monday. "I'd be disappointed if one of our guys got suspended, and I would think that they'd do something in terms of — I doubt that would be a one-strike-and-you're-out kind of thing — but if you become a repeat offender trying to hurt guys — and I'm not saying he is, I'm just generally speaking — that's something that would need to be addressed probably with suspensions. I'd be for that."

The "he" Harbaugh was referring to is New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather, who launched himself into tight end Todd Heap and made helmet-to-helmet contact in the second quarter.

Heap suffered what was described as a shoulder sprain and missed just five plays, but Harbaugh said the organization would seek clarification from the league about that collision.

Mike Pereira, the NFL's vice president of officiating from 2004-09 who writes a column for Fox Sports, took issue with Meriweather's aggressiveness.

"Meriweather clearly launched and went helmet-to-helmet against Heap, and Heap was injured on the play," Pereira wrote. "This type of hit is totally avoidable, and another message needs to be sent by the league to all players, forcing them to realize this type of contact is not acceptable. I look for a big fine to come from the league against Meriweather."

Still talking

As if Sunday's overtime contest between the Ravens and New England wasn't entertaining enough, both sides are doing what they can to keep things interesting by engaging in a war of words.

Minutes after the Patriots' 23-20 win, linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs suggested that New England might want to avoid a re-match in the postseason.

The victory gave the Patriots a 6-0 record against the Ravens in the regular season, but the Ravens returned the favor with a 33-14 victory in the teams' first playoff meeting Jan. 10.

"If we see them in the playoffs, we will be ready again," Lewis said after Sunday's loss. "I don't think they did anything different other than throw the passes they always throw."

Suggs was even blunter in his assessment, directing his warning at New England quarterback Tom Brady. "Like I said, he just better hope that he doesn't see us again," Suggs said.

Brady responded Monday morning during his weekly appearance on the "Dennis & Callahan" show on Boston radio station WEEI, saying, "He had his chance. Maybe if he gets another chance, he can try to back those words up. But he had a chance [Sunday]. You know, we've played guys a lot, and they've beat us one time in all the times that I've played them. They talk a lot for beating us once in nine years."

On the flip side, Harbaugh expressed his admiration for New England and coach Bill Belichick.

"Well, I talked to Coach Belichick, and he said he wanted to see us again," Harbaugh said. "And we both laughed about it because there's a lot of respect for both teams. There's no question about it. I feel like they respect us, and I know we respect them. That's why that win up there was so meaningful to the Ravens last year, because of the respect we have for that football team. We'll probably get a chance to play them again. I know we will at some point in time, and we look forward to it."

Harbaugh defends Cameron

New England adjusted its defensive coverage to a cover-2 alignment in the second half to disrupt the Ravens' offensive rhythm. The change seemed to work as the offense resorted to checkdowns to running back Ray Rice that the Patriots promptly snuffed out.

After the loss, Cam Cameron's play-calling was characterized as conservative in some circles, but Harbaugh defended the offensive coordinator.

"If you understand the coverage that they were playing, we had good plays called," Harbaugh said. "We had downfield routes called against it."

Harbaugh re-emphasizes control

Le'Ron McClain's personal-foul penalty for shoving Patriots outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham in overtime contributed to the team's offensive woes in the extra period.

And although Harbaugh said he wasn't angry with the fullback for letting his emotions get the best of him, he pointed out that the coaches had shown the players a tape on Saturday to remind them that they had to avoid retaliating.

"There's a whole lot of talking; there's a whole lot of grabbing going on in there, and you just can't retaliate," he said.

Re-hashing third-and-1

Harbaugh did not second-guess the call to have quarterback Joe Flacco attempt a sneak on third-and-1 from the Ravens' 47-yard line in the fourth quarter. But Harbaugh did say that the offense should've been able to get the first down.

"There's no reason that you can't get six inches on third-and-6-inches with all of us together figuring out how to do that, and that's something we have to do," he said. "We don't want to get stopped on third-and-6-inches anymore."

Special teams changes coming

Cary Williams shouldered responsibility for his illegal-block-in-the-back penalty in overtime that forced the offense to being a drive at the 17-yard line instead of the 27. "It's something that I regret," he said. "But it's a learning experience that I will definitely learn from and do better on in the future."

Williams wasn't the only guilty party. Rookie Ed Dickson was called for holding during a kick return, and Harbaugh vowed to make personnel changes with those committing penalties taking seats on the bench.

"If you can't block without holding a guy on special teams, if you can't tell that that's his back and not his front, then you can't play for us," he said. "It's just that simple."

End zone

Harbaugh said the decision to deactivate cornerback Josh Wilson was designed to preserve the hamstring that he strained in last week's 31-17 victory over the Denver Broncos. "It was a situation where when Josh felt like he opened up to his top speed, it was a possibility that it [the hamstring] would go," Harbaugh said. Harbaugh did not get into specifics about injuries to players like free safety Tom Zbikowski (bruised heel) and linebacker Edgar Jones (knee). … For the second time in three weeks, Brandon McKinney got the start at defensive end over Cory Redding. It was unclear whether McKinney's insertion was precipitated by injury. On Oct. 3, Redding did not play against the Pittsburgh Steelers due to a concussion suffered against the Cleveland Browns the week before. McKinney said he was pleased that the coaches had confidence in him to line him up with the rest of the starters. "It says a lot when they put you out there and trust in you," he said. "I just keep on preparing every week and doing what I can do." … Ravens president Dick Cass will be among the speakers at an American Cancer Society research breakfast on Tuesday at 8 a.m. at Westminster Hall, 519 W. Fayette St., in Baltimore. The Cancer Action Network's Maryland Cancer Research Breakfast will celebrate advancements in breast cancer research and survivorship. The event is part of a month-long celebration of breast cancer awareness in partnership with the NFL's "A Crucial Catch: Annual Screening Saves Lives" campaign during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.

edward.lee@baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun reporter Ken Murray contributed to this article.

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