AP Study: Hits to head still prevalent in NFL

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“But we have to play this game,” Ward said. “We have to play it the way that they force us to, and unfortunately, it incurred an injury for him.”

Of the 35 penalties for low hits, 10 came against the defense for hits to the quarterbacks. The league’s propensity for protecting the passer continues at almost every spot on the field. Over the first 11 weeks, there were 32 flags for infractions against quarterbacks that didn’t involve hits to the head or legs _ for example, a late hit on a sliding quarterback.

The NFL still makes a big splash out of suspensions and fines levied under the umbrella of protecting players. Ndamukong Suh, a multiple offender, got a $100,000 fine _ largest in league history for on-field conduct _ for his Week 2 low block on John Sullivan of the Vikings during an interception return.

More recently, Titans safety Michael Griffin served a one-game suspension for a low hit on Oakland tight end Mychal Rivera. When asked what he could have done differently, Griffin said a league official “told me there’s no clear black-and-white answer.”

“You have to start thinking about how you’re going to hit the guy when you get there,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “I think it’s very, very hard, very difficult. It definitely is necessary. I think it has helped the game in that way. But I think you’ve got to be careful in how these guys are fined and things like that going forward.”

Whatever the mixed messages, the NFL appears satisfied with the way players are adjusting to the rules, given the league’s decision not to raise fine amounts.

Total fines issued by the NFL have declined by 32 percent from 2009 to 2012 (668 to 451) and also decreased 4.5 percent between 2011 and 2012 (472 to 451). Fines for illegal hits on quarterbacks have declined 46.4 percent since 2009 (114 to 61).

All of which points to a safer game _ but a game that nevertheless, at least on average, puts at least one player in jeopardy in every game in every stadium every Thursday, Sunday and Monday.

“It’s a warrior game,” said Broncos defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, on injured reserve after suffering a dislocated hip on a play in which four players took turns blocking him, both high and low. “You’re going to have collisions. You’re going to have those injuries. You just try to do the best you can with them and play within the rules they set.”

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AP Sports Writers Genaro Armas in Green Bay, Wisc., Teresa Walker in Nashville, Tenn., Tom Withers in Cleveland, Joe Kay in Cincinnati and Joseph White in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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