NFL shouldn’t punish LeVeon Bell for losing helmet

Dominic Davies Columnist

By Dominic Davies, Dominic Davies is a Roar Expert

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    During the Thanksgiving rivalry match between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, the rookie running back LeVeon Bell took a ferocious hit while driving for the endzone.

    Bell was briefly knocked out, and many assumed the worst when he remained motionless on the ground.

    Despite falling into the endzone and the ball clearly crossing the plane (all that’s required for a touchdown) the score didn’t count. The reason? His helmet came off a half-yard before the line.

    It’s a relatively new rule (implemented in 2010) that states that a play ends immediately when a player loses his helmet, and, perhaps a good one.

    After all, there’s nothing more dangerous than a helmet-to-helmet collision. A strike from a helmet on an unprotected skull — inadvertent or not — could easily kill.

    Plays such as the one by the Dallas Cowboys’ Jason Witten, a 53-yard catch and run that saw him lose his helmet after a high hit, are exciting, sure, but are now gone for good.

    (If Witten had made that play in today’s NFL, the play would have been called dead on the Eagles’ 35-yard line.)

    So on Thursday night, when Bell’s helmet came off after a scary hit from Ravens’ cornerback Jimmy Smith, the referees were technically right to place the ball inside the one-yard line.

    The touchdown, earned by a rookie runner who was willing to put his body on the line to keep his team in the game, was taken away.

    Now, I doubt in the grand scheme of things Bell really cares about losing that touchdown (he already had one on the day, and two plays later the Steelers scored on fourth down).

    He’ll be more concerned with the concussion suffered as a result of the hit. As should the Steelers and fans be.

    But there’s clearly something wrong when a rule created solely to protect the players is responsible for taking away one of the game’s great achievements.

    There’s a difference between Witten’s catch-and-run (and the hit he could have suffered after he lost his helmet), and Bell’s fall into the endzone.

    Bell wasn’t making a football move, and he wasn’t trying to gain extra yardage. He simply fell forward. He was already going down.

    The letter of the law was followed, and as a result Bell’s achievement was pointlessly stripped of him.

    The NFL has become a letter-of-the-law league, where any inadvertent yet potentially dangerous hit is flagged, without thought to intent or situation.

    While obviously some players’ need to have their dangerous hits flagged — and fined, as is the case for Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather — the referees no longer have license to use common sense in applying the rules.

    Common sense dictates that Bell and the ball weren’t going anywhere but across the endzone when the helmet came off.

    Perhaps the NFL cannot afford any gray area anymore in how the games are managed. Arguably in this regard their hands are tied.

    But changes to the rule could be made so that things like this doesn’t happen again.

    Why not just have the play end as soon as the ref blows the whistle? Penalising any player who tries to tackle the ball carrier after the whistle is blown, so long as the player is still going to ground.

    That way the player is protected and whatever hard yards he managed to gain while falling forward are preserved, but he can’t sprint off and risk another big hit.

    As it stands, with the ball being placed at the exact spot the helmet comes off, the rule in a way encourages hits that could take a helmet off.

    The players now know — at least, we’d like to think so — the risks associated with playing the game. They go out there knowing that they’re putting their bodies on the line.

    That’s not to say the NFL shouldn’t implement more rules to make the game safer, long term. They absolutely should.

    But when a player pays the price to make a play for his team — and in this case, the price is especially heavy — he shouldn’t have that achievement stripped from him due to a technicality.

    It’s not in the spirit of the rule, or the game.

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    The Crowd Says (26)

    • December 1st 2013 @ 6:46am
      Minz said | December 1st 2013 @ 6:46am | ! Report

      It does seem a bit odd to penalise the attacking team for a helmet-removing hit! Perhaps they need a “penalty try”-type rule for situations like this one, where the player clearly would’ve scored except for the illegal hit?

    • December 1st 2013 @ 8:54am
      gavinmorten said | December 1st 2013 @ 8:54am | ! Report

      i take it from this article you have Le’Veon Bell on your fantasy roster??

      • Columnist

        December 1st 2013 @ 9:56am
        Dominic Davies said | December 1st 2013 @ 9:56am | ! Report

        Ha! How very cynical of you. Actually I didn’t see many fantasy players moaning about the TD taken away on the night. I assume because the hit was that scary.

        Now, if I were to complain about my fantasy teams I’d probably start with Trent Richardson. *sigh*

    • December 1st 2013 @ 10:55am
      Football United said | December 1st 2013 @ 10:55am | ! Report

      Maybe they should lose the helmets and pads, thus forcing them to learn to tackle properly and not just dangerously ram their opponent with their head.

      • Columnist

        December 1st 2013 @ 11:22am
        Dominic Davies said | December 1st 2013 @ 11:22am | ! Report

        I had a friend suggest the same thing a while back and can understand the argument. Issue is that having a helmet allows much bigger hits, and big hits are part of the attraction and culture of the NFL. Essentially, it’ll never happen.

        Most of the new rules the NFL has implemented these last few years have been to stop helmet-to-helmet contact.

        In a perfect world the best option would just be to ensure kids are just taught the better techniques young, and perhaps try and change the culture surrounding those dangerous collisions.

      • December 2nd 2013 @ 9:56am
        mushi said | December 2nd 2013 @ 9:56am | ! Report

        Ah by properly you mean “the way do it!”

        If you did this you basically would need to shut down the NFL for several years to rebuild everyone’s technique and completely change the laws of the game.

    • December 1st 2013 @ 11:55am
      Mike R said | December 1st 2013 @ 11:55am | ! Report

      I can tell by this article you’ve never played the game. Trying to hit a guys helmet with the intent of knocking it off makes no sense in the heat of battle. I seriously doubt anyone would think, “hmmm, let me try to remove the helmet instead of tackling him as I have done every play of my life.” The game is way too fast for that kind of thinking…….

      However, I do agree he should have been awarded a TD.

      • Columnist

        December 1st 2013 @ 3:18pm
        Dominic Davies said | December 1st 2013 @ 3:18pm | ! Report

        My point is it’s an incentive not to try and avoid helmet-to-helmet contact. Sorry if I didn’t make that clear. And I have played.

    • December 1st 2013 @ 2:31pm
      Storm Boy said | December 1st 2013 @ 2:31pm | ! Report

      The rule looks like it was added as a safety protection measure to stop a player running on without his helmet on. LeVeon Bell didn’t run on. His body with the ball fell across the end zone line as a result of the tackle. There should be an exception to the rule to allow the touchdown in that situation. Otherwise defenders will try to knock the helmet off to stop a touchdown. Not that I guess that is easy to do.

    • December 1st 2013 @ 6:14pm
      Leroy14 said | December 1st 2013 @ 6:14pm | ! Report

      We score all our tries in rugby without helmets.

      Comment from The Roar’s iPhone app.

      • December 2nd 2013 @ 9:58am
        mushi said | December 2nd 2013 @ 9:58am | ! Report

        Really I’ve seen more than the occasional player plunge over wearing something to protect his head?

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