By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
FOXBORO -- The NFL's safety crackdownhas changed its on-field product so radically in that fans, media, players and coaches are now conditioned to search for flags after every hit of consequence.
Was there helmet-to-helmet contact -- intentional or not, initiated by the offensive player or not? Did a defender "lead" with his helmet -- an act which will be a fact of life until players are allowed to take ball carriers down with flying scissor kicks. Was the offensive player defenseless? Did the defensive player launch? Was the head contacted in any way?There were a number of head-scratching penalties in Sunday's Patriots-Chargers game. The one that stood out most was the 15-yard roughing the passer penalty called on defensive end Andre Carter. Carter executed what appeared to be a textbook takedown of Philip Rivers in the second quarter, putting his helmet in Rivers' sternum as he released the ball and taking Rivers to the ground forcing an incompletion. Flag. Carter was brought up on charges of hitting Rivers with the "hairline" of his helmet. He didn't hit with the "crown" which would have happened if he ducked his head and turned himself into a missle. He basically hit Rivers with his eyebrows. "There's nothing they can really explain," Carter said. "It was just a good hit. I thought it was like right in the center of his chest. In the game of football, there's only so much you can control. I understand the helmet-to-helmet. I understand they're trying to protect the players in general because concussions have been a big issue, quarterbacks are being protected. But in the name of football . . . you just gotta play ball. You can't be tentative and think, 'OK, maybe I can hit him this way . . .' I'll be a man about it if I hit him in the head. That's my bad, but . . ."It comes back to the simple question of, "How do you teach it?" If what Carter did is illegal, where does that leave you as a defender or a defensive coach. On another level of officiating gripe-airing, there comes defensive holding or illegal contact. We saw two of those calls Sunday against Leigh Bodden. The first came on a third-and-4 late in the first half when Rivers threw incomplete on the other side of the field and Bodden got flagged for defensive holding when it appeared he merely had contact with Vincent Jackson as opposed to a full-out jam. Walt Anderson's crew got him again in the third quarter on another incompletion. It was nearly an identical play. That, of course, makes one wonder why Bodden did the same thing a second time. But what he was initially flagged for didn't seem like a foul in the first place. "I don't really have a comment on those plays," said Bodden. "I just thought I played good defense. I mean, I'm a physical guy. They want to get physical with me as well. I gotta protect myself. They're gonna call it the way, they're gonna call it."With both balls falling incomplete, it must have been a sickening feeling for Bodden. That he sullenly sat and stared straight ahead during most of the conversation was an indication it was."You look and see the flag and it's on you when it was incomplete on the other side, you just feel kinda . . . it's upsetting to see a flag like that thrown," he admitted. Tom E. Curran can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran
By Tom E. Curran