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Was Wes Welker's hit on Aqib Talib legal?

Posted by Erik Frenz  January 20, 2014 04:52 PM

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There's no love lost between Bill Belichick and Wes Welker. If it wasn't apparent in the bitter ending to Welker's tenure with the Patriots, it was blatantly obvious on Monday.

The tension was palpable in the media workroom during Belichick's end-of-season press conference, as the Patriots head coach addressed a hit by Welker on Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib.

The hit came on 2nd-and-9 with 13:36 remaining in the second quarter, with Welker and Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas running drag routes in the same direction. Talib shadowed Thomas across the field, and Welker collided with Talib while the ball was in the air.

"I think it was a deliberate play by the receiver to take out Aqib," Belichick said of the hit. "[He made] no attempt to get open. I'll let the league handle the discipline on that play; it's not for me to decide, but it's one of the worst plays I've seen."

There was no flag on the play, although the league could review the hit to determine if they want to take disciplinary action on Welker after the fact. A decision on a fine or other discipline would come down on Friday.

It's far from obvious, in real time, whether it was a penalty one way or the other. At the time, it was viewed as a judgment call, and was not penalized. This is the rule on offensive pass interference, according to the NFL's official rulebook:

"If the contact occurs as ball is being touched, there is no offensive pass interference. When it happens all at the same time -- the ball being touched and contact elsewhere -- it is not a foul. The contact has to be clearly before the ball is touched for it to draw a flag."

Review shows that the contact, indeed, came before the ball arrived.

welker talib.png

It's hard to fault the officials for making the call they did. At the same time, it's easy to see why Belichick is upset. The hit came before the ball. By the letter of the law, the hit was not legal.

Even if Welker was just trying to throw a block, it was still illegal.

"Blocking more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage by an offensive player prior to a pass being thrown is offensive pass interference. Note: It is also pass interference by the offense to block a defender beyond the line while the pass is in the air, if the block occurs in the vicinity of the player to whom the pass is thrown."

It looks like Welker was gearing up to block Talib before the ball arrived. The violence was a product of their velocities. The timing of the contact, though -- not the intent -- is the judgment call.

"It looked like it was intentional," said Patriots defensive end Andre Carter. "But the NFL will review it and, hopefully, Talib will just heal and get ready for the following season. ... People will say it was dirty and people will say it was nasty. I can't really say it was uncalled for, but the play was unacceptable."

In addition to the final result, just file the hit and injury as another thing that didn't go the Patriots' way on Sunday.

Years ago, Colts general manager Bill Polian made a case to have defensive illegal contact and defensive holding more strictly enforced after the Patriots pushed the boundaries of the rules to help shut down Peyton Manning and the Colts offense.

Maybe this offseason, Belichick can be the one who makes a case to the rules committee to more aggressively throw flags on offensive pass interference after Manning's Broncos utilized pick-routes and rub-routes to their advantage on their way to the Super Bowl.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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About the author

Erik Frenz delivers analysis of the biggest news with the Patriots, including insight into the AFC East and New England's biggest rivals from a Patriots perspective. Erik is an interactive writer who engages his audience in his posts’ comments sections and on Twitter. Readers are encouraged to share their thoughts and ask questions. More »


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