Meriweather hit gets hard look from NFL

Jerod Mayo closes on Todd Heap but makes a play on the ball; the helmet-to-helmet hit on a defenseless Heap soon after by Brandon Meriweather has caused concern. Jerod Mayo closes on Todd Heap but makes a play on the ball; the helmet-to-helmet hit on a defenseless Heap soon after by Brandon Meriweather has caused concern. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / October 19, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco dropped back in Sunday’s game and zipped a pass over the middle to his big tight end, Todd Heap. The pass was a bit high and Heap left his feet, getting the fingers of his right hand on the ball.

The Patriots’ Jerod Mayo had closed quickly on Heap and put his hands up to make a play on the ball.

Then in came Brandon Meriweather, who left his feet, lowered his head, and made jarring helmet-to-helmet contact with Heap.

Heap fell to the Gillette Stadium turf and stayed there for several minutes. Meriweather was flagged for a 15-yard personal foul and went to the sideline, where he tried to plead his case to coach Bill Belichick.

And just like that, the NFL had Exhibit A as to why it is considering suspensions instead of just fines when it comes to helmet-to-helmet hits on defenseless receivers.

There were also Exhibits B and C during Week 6 of NFL play.

In Philadelphia, Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson hit the Eagles’ DeSean Jackson so hard that both players left the game with a concussion. Philadelphia termed Jackson’s concussion “severe’’ and does not expect him back for several weeks. He could not remember the play he had been hurt on.

In Pittsburgh, hits by Steelers linebacker James Harrison were responsible for knocking two Browns out of the game with head injuries: Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi. The hit on Cribbs was deemed legal, the one on Massaquoi is under review by the NFL.

Those hits, combined with others throughout the league this season, are causing NFL officials to consider ramp ing up the punishment offending players face.

Ray Anderson, the league’s executive vice president of football operations, said yesterday that suspensions could be coming for Meriweather and other players.

“There’s strong testimonial for looking readily at evaluating discipline, especially in the areas of egregious and elevated dangerous hits,’’ Anderson told the Associated Press. “There are certain hits that occurred that will be more susceptible to suspension. There are some that could bring suspensions for what are flagrant and egregious situations.’’

Yesterday in the Patriots locker room, Meriweather did not want to talk about the play, but he may address it this week. During a mid-day appearance on WEEI, he initially resisted discussing it.

“I just attacked. I wasn’t trying to make head-to-head contact or injure anybody or play dirty in any kind of way. It just happened,’’ he said, adding that he spoke with Heap after the game to let him know it wasn’t intentional.

Meriweather does not want to tone down his aggression.

“I’m not trying to look at it and make a big deal like everybody else is doing,’’ he said. “It’s football. You’ve got a lot of good players, where you think one thing, and another thing can happen in a split second. You’ve always got to make a split-second decision, and my split-second decision was to be aggressive and not wait for it.’’

Anderson said the league’s Competition Committee may consider banning all hits with the helmet this offseason.

“The way football is played, it’s going to be difficult, but it may be necessary,’’ Anderson told the New York Times. “It may be difficult but it’s not necessarily impossible. All things will be on the table as we evaluate and look at this. It’s critically important. It’s not just a career-threatening situation for a guy like DeSean Jackson, [it’s] maybe life-altering.

“Very frankly, we don’t want to see another Darryl Stingley on our watch.’’

Stingley is the late former Patriots receiver who was paralyzed in a 1978 preseason game.

The league made it illegal for a player to use the crown of his helmet to make a tackle in 1995. In recent years, there has been an emphasis on eliminating helmet-to-helmet hits as the long-term effects of concussions has become a bigger issue for the NFL.

On NBC’s “Sunday Night Football’’ pregame show, former Patriot Rodney Harrison, who set aside $50,000 each season to pay fines, said he believes suspensions — and loss of game checks — would get players’ attention. Helmet-to-helmet hits usually draw fines of $5,000 to $10,000, not a huge sum for many players.

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