NEW YORK (AP) — The NFL delivered its message about heavier punishment for illegal hits, including suspensions, directly to the 32 teams Thursday with a video spelling out what to avoid.
The video includes three tackles from last Sunday that led to huge fines, and warns players that even first-time offenders will immediately be subject to suspensions for delivering such flagrant hits to the head and neck area of defenseless players.
“Illegal hits to the head of an opponent will not be tolerated,” NFL executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson says in the video. “A player is accountable for what he hits. Illegal techniques must be removed from our game.
“We all accept that football is a physical and tough game, but players must play under control. If a player launching into an opponent misses his aiming point, he will nevertheless be responsible for what he hits.”
In the video, Anderson calls Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather’s helmet hit on Ravens tight end Todd Heap “inexcusable.” Meriweather was fined $50,000 for the hit in which he launched himself headfirst into Heap’s helmet.
Also on the video is James Harrison’s hit on Browns receiver Mohamed Massaguoi that brought the Steelers linebacker a $75,000 fine, and the collision between Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson and Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson that gave both players concussions. Robinson was fined $50,000 for that tackle.
Anderson says of Robinson’s hit, in which the cornerback launched himself toward Jackson but did not make contact with his helmet: “It’s bang-bang but still illegal. The receiver is defenseless and in the act of attempting to catch a pass.”
“These hits can have severe consequences for the player delivering the hit as well as for the player taking the blow,” adds Anderson, a member of the NFL’s competition committee. “Using the head, forearm or shoulder to deliver the initial hit against a defenseless player will draw significant discipline.”
Players had seen the 4-minute video by midafternoon Wednesday and had mixed reactions to it.
“We talked about it today,” Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “We watched the video that the league sent. There was a lot of comments and observations from the defensive guys, and the offensive guys were mostly quiet. That’s just how it is.
“It’s a tricky thing. From my perspective, I’m trying to protect the guys that I’m throwing the ball to. I’m trying to put them in a situation where they’re not going to get hit like that, but that’s about it for me.”
Denver cornerback Champ Bailey wasn’t particularly impressed by the video.
“It’s nothing that we didn’t know,” he said. “I think it was good for some people who hadn’t been in the league for a while to see that and to kind of refresh your memory for the older guys.”
Other illegal tackles shown in the video include Carolina safety Sherrod Martin’s hit on Giants tight end Kevin Boss in the season opener that gave Boss a concussion; and Kansas City rookie safety Kendrick Lewis’ shot on Cleveland tight end Evan Moore in Week 2 that gave Moore a concussion.
The video also shows several hits that are legal and display what Anderson calls “tough, clean football.”
Ravens star linebacker Ray Lewis is shown using his shoulder to deliver a chest hit in what Anderson terms “a great player making a great play. No launching, no head or neck impact, proper technique that minimizes the risk to the opponent. This is what we are asking.”
The crackdown, and subsequent possible suspensions, begins with this weekend’s games because the league wanted to give players fair warning. The video delivers that warning explicitly.
“Gentlemen, you must know that player safety is our highest priority,” Anderson says. “We have said publicly and we repeat to all of you we will not apologize for or be defensive about aggressive enforcement to protect players from illegal and potentially life-altering blows to the head and neck.
“So please, know the rules and play by the rules. You are on notice and we will appreciate your compliance.”
AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton in Denver and Sports Writer Tim Booth in Seattle contributed to this story.