New rules on hits to head not likely to make game safer

This just in: football is a violent game.

NFL brass discovered this shocking fact last Sunday. They looked at all those violent hits to the head that you saw on the sports wrap-up shows that night.

They saw the shots Todd Heap took from New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather — Heap's neck must still have "Riddell" etched on the side.

They saw Philadelphia Eagles wideout DeSean Jackson knocked into la-la land by Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson.

And they saw Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison practically take off the head of Cleveland Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi with another crunching hit.

And after watching all this, the NFL execs decided: "Whoa, can't have any more of that, fellas! Why, somebody's going to get hurt out there!"

So now the league has decreed that fines and suspensions will be handed out for "flagrant and egregious" helmet-to-helmet hits.

And this is suddenly supposed to make the game safer.

But if you talked to a number of the Ravens Wednesday in their weekly session with the media, the reaction was: Good luck with that plan.

"If [players] go into the game thinking about any of that stuff," Ray Lewis said of helmet hits and their consequences, "I'm telling you, the game will be diluted very quickly.

"You look at the James Harrison hits or whatever. … The bottom line is, you go into your [team's] defensive room, those are the hits you're getting praised for! Because that's the way the game of football is supposed to be played."

But let's not even get into the hypocrisy of the NFL, which has celebrated bone-rattling hits and knockout blows for over 50 years, suddenly finding religion when it comes to helmet-to-helmet hits.

Instead, let's concentrate on a couple of key questions.

No. 1, how can you ask defensive players to suddenly change the way they've played the game since they were kids, sticking their head in there when making a tackle?

And No. 2, given the speed of today's game, isn't it almost impossible at times to say who's responsible for a helmet-to-helmet hit?

Did the receiver suddenly lower his head as he gathered in the ball and prepared for a blow?

Or did the defender launch himself like a missile for a little round of head-hunting?

It's a fine line, a reporter suggested to Lewis Wednesday.

"As a defender," Lewis said, "you're not thinking about that line. You're thinking: If somebody's ready to touch that ball, they got to be dealt with. … It's the way I've played the game since the beginning of time, the way I watched the game [being] played since the beginning of time.

"Honestly, no matter what [NFL executives] try to do, that part of the game can't change. The game is called tackling and hitting. … Hopefully, they understand that."

Ed Reed, the Pro Bowl safety who returns to the Ravens this week after missing six games with injuries, said the speed of today's game means there's often not enough time for a defender to react and avoid a last-second helmet-to-helmet hit.

"Because you never know what the receiver's going to do," Reed said. "He might duck his head, so you might turn left, turn right, you never know. … It [helmet-to-helmet hits] comes with the sport. This isn't something that is just happening. It's been happening for years."

In his nine-year career, Reed has been involved in more than his share of helmet-to-helmet hits.

What does it feel like?" a reporter wanted to know.

"When you wake up?" Reed shot back.

That was good for a few chuckles. But Reed wasn't kidding.

"It don't feel too good, man," Reed continued. "Because you just erased a part of your memory or something. So it's not a good feeling. Not something I'd recommend."

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said defenders have nailed him with a number of helmet-to-helmet hits in his three years in the league.

"It happens a lot," he said. "It's part of the reason we wear helmets. I've never actually been hurt by one. During the game [if it happens] you've got to move on.

"I feel that head injuries are definitely a big part of what [league officials] have to look at. But it's tough when you suspend guys and fine guys a lot of money … it's definitely a thin line. I wouldn't like to be fined a lot of money if I was a defensive guy just trying to make a play."

Well, it's a little late for that kind of sentiment.

Meriweather was fined $50,000 for his hit on Heap. Robinson was socked for the same amount for laying out Jackson. Harrison has to pony up 75 grand as a repeat offender for sending Massaquoi to dream-land. And suspensions are right around the corner.

It's crack-down time in the NFL. We'll see if it makes the game any safer.

My guess? Not much.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

(Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.)

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