The voice of reason came from the unlikeliest of places, from a man who once made his reputation and his living by pushing the outer limits of safety and legality in the NFL. But Rodney Harrison, once a known head-hunter, once considered the dirtiest player in football, had finally seen enough.
Never mind the damage he had inflicted his career. His reform movement was sparked by a weekend of carnage — last weekend, in fact — when a season-long parade of players to MRI machines and CT scans and concussion specialists all erupted in one perfectly hideous storm. For a while it seemed like every game featured a highlight of a player getting laid out in a vicious, violent, helmet-to-helmet hit.
Other players, meanwhile, laid crumpled in a heap on the ground being tended to by trainers. One man’s ticket to SportsCenter is always another man’s ticket for an ambulance ride.
It happened in Philadelphia, where Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson ran full speed at Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson and collided with him head to head, helmet to helmet, leaving both players sprawled on the ground. Jackson later had memory loss and what was described as a “severe” concussion, with no one having any idea when he’d be back.
It happened, too, in Pittsburgh where linebacker James Harrison was remorseless in leveling two Cleveland Browns — receivers Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi — with helmet-to-helmet hits. The NFL has reportedly ruled the hit on Cribbs to be borderline legal, though the one on Massaquoi clearly was not.
And it happened in New England where Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather delivered a helmet-to-helmet hit on Ravens tight end Todd Heap so over the line that even New England coach Bill Belichick was furious.
Fines are coming. Probably hefty fines. But it took Harrison — who collected over $200,000 in fines in his 15-year career on the edge — to implore the NFL that fines just aren’t enough.
“You didn’t get my attention when you fined me five grand, 10 grand, 15 grand,” Harrison, now an NBC analyst, said on Sunday Night Football. “You got my attention when I got suspended and I had to get away from my teammates and I disappointed my teammates from not being there. But you have to suspend these guys. These guys are making millions of dollars.”
There should be a chorus of “Amen” from NFL players who by now must be furious about putting their safety at risk thanks to a growing handful of cheap-shot artists who mistake the act of launching themselves like a head-hunting missile for the lost art of making a solid tackle. Sometime, in the Age of SportsCenter, form was lost in favor of getting an opponent “jacked up” and getting on the highlight reel.
The NFL claims it takes blows to the head seriously, and for proof they levy fines — fines in four and five figures for players making seven and eight figures per year. That may be enough to get the attention of an undrafted rookie making the NFL minimum. But will even a $25,000 fine mean anything to a player like Harrison who is in the second year of a six-year, $51 million contract that pays him an average of more than $8 million per year?
Apparently not, and not just because he did it twice on Sunday, but because he was defiant about his actions and unconcerned about the bodies he left in his chaotic wake.
“I don’t want to injure anybody, but I’m not opposed to hurting anybody,” Harrison said. “There’s a big difference between being hurt and being injured. You get hurt, you shake it off and come back the next series or the next game.”
There’s also a difference between being dumb and dumber, and it’s about as slim as the difference between being injured and hurt. He smashed two players in the head with his own head and left both with concussions. And for one of the hits, despite the damage, he said it would be “a travesty” if he got fined.
No, the travesty would be if he wasn’t suspended. But that’s coming soon, too — and not just because Rodney Harrison said so. Ray Anderson, the NFL’s VP of operations was apparently so horrified by what he saw on Sunday, he spoke out against the disturbing trend and predicted that the discipline could end being as hard as the hits are — and soon.
“Going forward there are certain hits that occurred that will be more susceptible to suspension,” Anderson said. “There are some that could bring suspensions for what are flagrant and egregious situations.
Again, from the chorus, can I hear an “Amen”?
“(If) the money does not seem to be a deterrent, then it has to be more than that,” said Giants coach Tom Coughlin. “It is quite frustrating, to be honest with you, if a player is forced to leave a game because of an illegal hit and the other player continues. That doesn’t really seem right.”
No it doesn’t. Nor does it seem safe. What it is, is disturbing on all fronts. And everybody is guilty. Coughlin may not like head-hunting, but his team spent $37 million on safety Antrel Rolle, whom last season as a member of the Arizona Cardinals went head-hunting on unsuspecting Giants tight end Kevin Boss. The Giants were furious with Rolle then. Yet they’re paying him now.
Meanwhile, the Robinson-Jackson hit — which was all over the highlight shows later that night — was shown twice on the four huge scoreboards inside the new, $1.7 million stadium while the Giants were beating the Detroit Lions on Sunday. Each time the crowd offered a cheer.
It was a sobering reminder of how distasteful that was later in the day when Lions linebacker Zack Follet lay motionless on the Meadowlands field after colliding, helmet-to-helmet with Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. That hit didn’t make some of the highlight shows because it was an inadvertent collision while Pierre-Paul was blocking on a kickoff return. It was poor tackling form, but likely won’t be considered illegal.
Plus, Follet was hurt — so badly, in fact, that he never seemed to move while laying on the field. He had to be rolled onto a backboard, carried to a cart, and carefully transported to a local hospital.
The highlight shows don’t want to celebrate results like that. But the hits? They’ll show the hits.
“(Fans) definitely like the big hits,” Boss said. “And guys want to make those big hits so they can get on SportsCenter.”
A few small fines won’t change that mentality. Just ask Harrison. Or Meriweather, who said after leaving Heap in a heap, “Point blank, won’t change my game, period.”
It’s time then, that someone changes the game for players like that.
Before somebody really gets hurt.
Kevin Kolb has three 300-yard passing games in five career starts.
Kolb or Vick? Does It Matter?
Michael Vick leads the NFL in passer rating. Kevin Kolb has three 300-yard games in five career starts, including yesterday’s 23-of-29, 326-yard, three touchdown masterpiece. Has one team ever had two of the top 10 quarterbacks in the league? Vick, nursing injured rib cartilage, never even emerged from the locker room during the Eagles’ 31–17 rout of Atlanta. If he had, he would have witnessed a nearly flawless performance from his replacement — a performance marred only slightly by an interception that set up a Falcons touchdown, and a scary concussion to big-play receiver DeSean Jackson. So is there a quarterback controversy in Philly? So what if there is? In this case, there are far worse problems to have. “When you’re sitting here as a chubby head coach in the National Football League and you have two good quarterbacks, you're a happy guy,” said a suitably jolly Andy Reid.
Welcome Back, Big Ben
In the Steelers’ first four games, they amassed a total of three touchdowns passes. During yesterday’s 28–10 win over the Browns, they matched that total. Glad to have you back, Big Ben. Roethlisberger made an emotional return from league-mandated suspension, throwing for 257 yards and three scores and giving the Steelers an offensive dimension they’d been papering over for the season’s first quarter. Rather than harbor bitterness at Big Ben for putting them in an early-season bind, the Heinz Field faithful welcomed him back like a conquering hero. “I started thinking about it on the way here,” said Roethlisberger. “Before the game I got emotional. To hear the cheers was something special. I got a little emotional.” You know what made the fans emotional? Seeing a quarterback actually get the ball into the end zone.
Wade Phillips: Dead Man Walking
The Cowboys held the Vikings offense to 188 yards and clamped down on Adrian Peterson to the tune of 24-73 (3.0 ypc). Unfortunately, the Cowboys also kicked off to Percy Harvin. Harvin’s 95-yard kickoff return TD was the key play in Dallas’ 24–21 loss to Minnesota in Sunday’s Desperation Bowl. It was the latest chapter in a season-long saga of despair in Big D. The Cowboys are statistically dominating their opponents in every area except the scoreboard. They’re outgaining their foes 400.0-289.4 and are dominating time of possession. Yet they’re 1–4, and the little things are the culprit, the things that get coaches fired — penalties, turnovers, special teams play. Owner Jerry Jones is adamant that any coaching decisions will come after the season — I would neverconsider doing that during the season," Jones said — but after his team let the Vikings off the hook, Wade Phillips seems destined for a hook of his own.
Best Win of the Day: Patriots Over Ravens
No Moss? No problem. After the Patriots shed the mercurial Randy Moss, they reacquired Tom Brady’s old security blanket, Deion Branch, and the two rekindled their on-field love affair just in time for a critical overtime win over the Ravens. New England erased a 20–10 fourth-quarter deficit, as Brady found Branch seven times for 75 yards and a touchdown in the final stanza and overtime. Branch’s two catches on the P-men’s final drive of the day led to Stephen Gostkowski’s game-winning 35-yard field goal with only 1:56 left in overtime. Defensively, the Patriots held the Ravens to punts on their final five possessions. Suddenly, this team has a familiar feel, which should inject a similarly familiar feeling of dread into the rest of the AFC. “Tom and I have been away for four years and I honestly don’t feel we missed a beat,” Branch said.
The Colts Are Still the Colts
The AFC South is the most competitive division in football. After Monday night’s division showdown between the Titans and Jags, there will still be a three-way tie at the top, with tonight’s loser nipping at the threesome’s heels. But the division favorite? The NFL’s version of Old Faithful. The Colts mixed flashes of greatness with moments of ineptitude in last night’s 27–24 win over the Redskins in Landover, proving yet again that they don’t have to be at their best to win. “The standards and expectations of our team are so high that whenever we have a few bumps in the road, people seem to panic. ‘The Colts are going to have a bad year,’” said cornerback Jerraud Powers. “Well, we’re going through the same stuff, if you look around the league, it’s pretty balanced right now, there’s no real dominant team out there. We’re working on being more consistent and finding our identity.” That identity, until proven otherwise? Division kingpin.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was set to select Randy Moss with the eighth overall pick in 1998 when then coach Chan Gailey and others on staff talked him out of it on draft day. Citing character concerns, the Cowboys instead took Greg Ellis.
Moss, who was selected 21st overall by the Vikings, since has forgiven Jones. But that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten.
“I always forgive, man. That’s in the Bible,” Moss said. “I always forgive, but I never forget. Mr. Jones, Jerry Jones, I still respect his organization, the accomplishments that he has made over the years, I don’t hold a grudge, and I’m not bitter about the situation. This is my 13th year in the league. I forgive him, but I don’t forget.”
In seven career games against the Cowboys, including the postseason, Moss has 35 receptions for 734 yards and 11 touchdowns. His average of 21 yards per catch is the most against any team. His team has never lost to the Cowboys.
“[Before the draft], I told my mom I might be a Cowboy, so she had her mind set on Dallas just as well as I did, so when they didn’t pick me, I was kind of more depressed because she was depressed,” Moss said. “…Just seeing her facial expression and how she looked, I really took that to heart, man, and I told myself any time I play the Dallas Cowboys I’m never going to forget that look.”
When the Patriots traded him to the Vikings last week, Moss circled this week’s game on his calendar. Jones quickly offered a public apology to Moss.
“I apologize. I apologize. I apologize,” Jones said. “I don’t believe that’s going to do any good. He’s too much of a competitor. He’s a real competitor, and I’ve known all my life that when people say you can’t do it or when people pass over you saying somebody else can do it, all that does is inspire you. …Certainly, he’s made us pay, and I’m sorry we’ve got to play him.”
Kolb ready to go again
Kevin Kolb is thankful for a second chance to make a first impression. The Philadelphia Eagles quarterback opened the season as the team’s starter before losing the job to Michael Vick. Vick, though, injured his ribs against the Redskins.
So Kolb made his fourth career start last week and completed 21-of-31 passes for 253 yards and a touchdown in a 27–24 victory over the 49ers.
“I had some confidence going into the game,” Kolb said. “Being a Sunday night football game, and all the things that were said about Vick’s playing well, and I wasn’t playing well, it just felt good to kind of reprove to the people who don’t believe that I can still play, and I can lead the team to a win,” Kolb said.
Kolb is expected to start again this week, but Vick will reclaim the starting job when he is healthy. It’s the job Kolb has waited three years for, sitting behind Donovan McNabb until McNabb was traded to the Redskins in the off-season.
“The one thing I’ve always learned is you can never predict what’s going to happen,” Kolb said. “You just have to be ready when your name is called. That’s a valuable lesson, because a lot of guys get down and it affects you down the road. Regardless of which way the road goes, you can only control what you can control, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
The old LT is back
Everyone had given up on LaDainian Tomlinson.
After two very un-LT-like season, Fantasy Football owners had moved on without him. So, too, did the Chargers.
In 2009, Tomlinson had his worst season with 223 carries for 730 yards, a 3.3-yard average. The Chargers intimated that Tomlinson had lost a step.
The Jets, though, thought Tomlinson still had enough left in the tank to be a capable backup to Shonn Greene.
In a season he refers to as a “rebirth,” Tomlinson has proved everyone wrong. The Jets’ starting running back is fifth in the NFL in rushing with 435 yards and three touchdowns on 76 carries. He is averaging 5.7 yards per carry. Greene ranks 20th with 280 rushing yards.
“I’ve always believed in myself,” Tomlinson said, “and when the opportunity presented itself, I’m performing for the Jets. They took a chance on me. That’s what makes me happy more than anything is that I’m proving them right. People took shots at the Jets when they signed me: ‘What are they doing? He’s done.’ It’s more about proving them right than proving anybody else wrong.”
Tomlinson, the NFL’s seventh all-time leading rushers with 12,925 yards, was supposed to be too old to do what he’s doing now. He is 31, past the prime for running backs. But Tomlinson said the results of the past two seasons were more about injuries than age.
He injured a toe in Week 1 of the 2008 season and injured an ankle in Week 1 of the 2009 season. This season, he’s healthy.
“I’ve never felt my age,” Tomlinson said. “I got banged up a couple of times. Everybody goes through a stretch when they’re injured. But I still had my quickness, and I still had my speed. I could see that in the off-season, running with these cornerbacks and receivers. It’s just the fact that I am 31 now, and people get that stereotype that when running backs hit 30 they go downhill.”
He will, he said, keep playing as long as he’s healthy.
• Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton’s 1,733 passing yards are the best five-game total in team history and sixth in NFL annals. He has a current streak of four 300-yard games. No Denver quarterback ever has reached five in a row.
• The Lions have lost 23 consecutive road games. Detroit, with a loss this week against the Giants at the Meadowlands, will tie its own NFL record for road futility, which they set with 24 losses in a row from 2001-03. Seven players remain from the Lions’ last road victory, 16–7 in Chicago in 2007. They are Calvin Johnson, Jeff Backus, Dominic Raiola, Stephen Peterman, Jason Hanson, Nick Harris and Don Muhlbach.
• The Falcons have allowed 12 plays of 20 yards or more this season, though none in the past two games.
• Panthers quarterback Jimmy Clausen has fumbled seven times this season, losing two. He also has thrown three interceptions.
• Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel is not putting up the passing numbers to match his $63 million deal. Fans are growing impatient, and coach Todd Haley has had to deny rumors that Cassel’s contract and orders from general manager Scott Pioli are what’s keeping Cassel under center. The Chiefs are 3–1, but Cassel is completing only 54.7 percent of his passes with four touchdowns, three interceptions and a passer rating of 74.0.
• Patriots receiver Wes Welker is trying to become the second receiver in NFL history with four consecutive seasons of 100 catches or more. Former Colts star Marvin Harrison had 100 or more catches in each season from 1999-2002.
• Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw leads the NFL with seven carries of 20 or more yards. He is also third in the league and first in the NFC with 449 rushing yards this season, the highest total through five games for a Giants running back since Tiki Barber had 577 yards on the ground in 2004.
• Jets kicker Nick Folk was 5-of-5 on field goal attempts against the Vikings, connecting from 25, 53, 22, 34 and 31 yards. The 53-yarder tied a career long. He is 12-of-14 on field goal attempts this season, with one of the misses from 61 yards at Miami.
• Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has a 10–1 record against the Browns, although he lost his last start against them, a 13–6 decision Dec. 10 in Cleveland.
• Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has the team’s two rushing touchdowns this season.
• Patriots receiver Joey Galloway is only five catches shy of becoming the 31st NFL player with 700 career receptions.
• Texans quarterback Matt Schaub led the NFL in passing yards last season, but he is tied for ninth after five games this year. Schaub looks uncomfortable in the pocket, and he hasn’t been sharp or consistent. He has five interceptions and has taken 14 sacks.
• Colts quarterback Peyton Manning did not throw a touchdown Sunday. It was only the 25th time in 197 regular-season career starts that Manning did not throw a touchdown.
• Houston is 5–6 at home and 7–3 on the road dating to the start of last season. In those road games, Houston is averaging 423 yards a game. No other team has averaged 400 yards on the road during that period.
• Cardinals linebacker Gerald Hayes, who underwent back surgery in July, has been ready to return for a few weeks and should play against Seattle on Oct. 24. His role, however, likely will be limited to playing some snaps at the strong inside spot. He could eventually assume the full-time job at the strong inside spot, where he has been the starter the previous four seasons. That would allow Paris Lenon to move to the weak-side spot, replacing rookie Daryl Washington. Washington has struggled at times getting off blocks and filling gaps, and the Cardinals would like to use him to spell Lenon and in the subpackages.
• The Bears are 0-of-9 on plays from the opponents’ 1-yard line this season.
• Bengals running back Cedric Benson has 10 100-yard games in 27 starts with Cincinnati. He is fifth in the team record books for most 100-yard games. Corey Dillon holds the record with 28.
• Bengals receiver Terrell Owens is fifth in the league with 476 yards. At his current pace he would have 99 receptions for 1,523 yards and six touchdowns. The yards would be a single-season Bengals record.
• Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas had his worst game in the NFL as Falcons defensive end John Abraham had two sacks, three pressures and three tackles. Abraham was responsible for knocking quarterback Seneca Wallace out of the game. Thomas has a holding penalty and has allowed three sacks this season.
• Broncos receiver Brandon Lloyd has four 100-yard receiving games in five weeks. Lloyd previously had four such games in his career with Denver (2009), Chicago (2008), Washington (2006-07) and San Francisco (2003-05).
• The Cardinals have won nine consecutive games when coming off a loss. They have not had consecutive losses since December 2008.