The NFL head of officiating confirmed Wednesday that Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker’s block on New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib in Sunday’s AFC Championship game was a legal hit.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick had complained that the block was illegal and a “deliberate play by the receiver.”
NFL’s top official, Dean Blandino, said Welker’s hit didn’t violate league rules, although it knocked Talib out of the AFC title game.
“Under the current rules, this is a legal play,” Blandino said, via Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.
The NFL’s Competition Committee could look at such hits during the offseason and consider a rules change that would protect defensive players from getting hit by one receiver while they are trailing another receiver.
Talib left the game in the second quarter with what was initially announced by the Patriots as a rib injury. The Patriots said 10 minutes later Talib suffered a knee injury.
“I was asked about the hit on Talib and I feel badly for Aqib the way that play turned out,” Belichick said Monday. “I went back and watched it, which I didn’t have a chance to do yesterday. I think it was a deliberate play by the receiver to take out Aqib; 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.”
Welker said Sunday the contact was unintentional, and definitely not malicious.
“It was one of those plays where it’s kind of a rough play and I was trying to get him to go over the top, and I think he was thinking the same thing and wanted to come underneath and we just kind of collided,” Welker said Sunday from his locker. “It wasn’t a deal where I was trying to hit him or anything like that. I hope he’s OK, he’s a great player and a big part of their defense.”
The “pick” play, on which receivers run crossing or drag routes in opposite directions to advtertently create traffic for defensive players to avoid, is not legal.
According to the NFL rulebook, the reception and offending block or pick in question must clearly occur in a specific order to warrant a penalty.