Column: Add suspension to NFL ‘Rules of the Road’

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Football will never be safe. Science proved that.

Roger Goodell can try to make the NFL safer, but he can’t legislate that, either. The commissioner’s power in such matters relies on coercion, and judging by last weekend’s slate of games, some of the same people he’s trying to reach couldn’t care less. A few seemed more determined than ever to wring their opponents’ necks, regardless of the consequences.

A rough count turned up at least four reported concussions. There were another three helmet hits in the New Orleans-Tampa Bay game that were questionable at best and cringe-worthy at the very least. And in what can best be described as frontier justice, Washington safety Brandon Meriweather concussed Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy with a helmet-to-helmet blow, then suffered a concussion of his own trying to administer the same punishment to another Packer back later in the game.

Incredibly, neither blow drew a flag on the field, though Meriweather was fined after a review by the league. Not surprising, coach Mike Shanahan defended his player in both instances.

“On the first one it looked like the running back was kind of going downhill, and when Brandon went for the tackle it looked to me like it was perfect and then all of a sudden when (Lacy) ducked his head, I couldn’t tell,” the coach said.

“The second one on the sidelines, that’s what you’re supposed to do. That’s a legal hit,” Shanahan said, and league director of officiating Dean Blandino agreed.

Even less surprising, Packers coach Mike McCarthy saw it differently.

Of the first play he said, “The Washington safety definitely led with his helmet, so I know that’s not what we’re looking for.”

About the second hit, on James Starks, McCarthy added, “Same thing, different result.”

It didn’t help Meriweather’s case that he had a rap sheet dating to 2010, being docked $40,000 for a pair of helmet-to-helmet hits while playing for New England, and another $20,000 for a similar incident a year later playing for Chicago.

But Meriweather wasn’t the only repeat offender on the weekend. That honor was claimed by Tampa Bay’s Dashon Goldson, who lowered the boom on New Orleans running back Darren Sproles and finally got suspended for all his efforts _ but only for one game. And even that was overturned Wednesday on appeal.

So instead of losing a $264,705 game check, Goldson was hit with a $100,000 fine.

Goodell said the decision by Matt Birk, who handles appeals of discipline of on-field punishment for players for the league and NFL Players Association, proved “a violation of the rule has consequences.”

“Players are adapting to the rules and techniques,” he added. “The culture doesn’t change overnight.”

No kidding.

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