Player safety has been evolving for years. No spearing? That's an easy one. Brady rule? Fine. Never ever ever ever touch the QB's helmet? Fine. Don't smack a receiver mid-air in an attempt to, heaven forbid, "make a play?" Fine. Move the kick off up and take away the wedge? Fine. Safety this, safety that, whatever.
I understand that "player safety" is the supposed mantra of the NFL these days. *cough* REFS *cough* It might just the message currently being broadcast to all the Don't-put-your-kids-in-Soccer-Moms across America. Either way, player safety has been brought to the forefront of NFL discussion whether it be concussions, new rules, or bounties. I can accept that, but never in my life did I think that a player could be fined for laying a block with his shoulder to the chest of an attacking defender.
The classification of 6'2-250lb Sean Lee as "defenseless" and the declaration that Golden Tate's block directly between the numbers on his chest is a "blindside hit" is where I draw my line in the sand.
Instantly after the play claims of an "illegal hit" were everywhere. The broadcast crew, still in shock over the blindside hit they themselves took when the Dallas Darlin's went down 10-0 early and were "playing down" to Seattle's level, fell right in line, sympathizing for the Cowboys and poor Sean Lee (who would return to the game just a few plays later).
We were later graced, via the twitters, with the prophetic words of former Vice President of Officiating and current Fox Sports
puppet contributor, Mike Pereria:
Mike Pereira The hit on Lee is an illegal blindside block. Lee is considered defenseless, which means you can't lower your head & hit in head/neck area. September 16, 2012 10:31 pm via TweetDeck Retweet Favorite
We're familiar with the AP photo which shows the crown of Tate's helmet making contact with Lee's facemask. This is the same photo that makes Sean Lee's face look like a smashed Play-Doh Mr. Bill doll in a football helmet. That's not the photo that should be used to gauge the "illegality" of the block which not only sprung Russel Wilson for a key first down early in the 4th Quarter, it likely saved Wilson from taking a strong hit of his own.
After the jump, the following photo helps address, point by point, some of the issues Mike Pereira, Jerry Jones, and the like had with the "illegal" block.
1. The notion that Sean Lee is somehow "defenseless." The "defenseless player" argument can easily be combated with Basic Football Rule #2: Keep your head on a swivel.** Translation, always know where you and your teammates are, and especially know where the other teams' players are; targets and blockers alike. Lee did not follow this simple rule. In that split second when the play turns from pass to run is it Golden Tate's job to make sure Lee sees him or to yell, "Heads up!" as he approaches? No.
It's not like Lee is trailing an interception or kick return and is then blindsided. All three players; Wilson, Lee and Tate are within a 5 yard window. All three players are right at the center of action.
**Note, Basic Football Rule #1: Simply, chinstraps and mouth guards.
2. Golden Tate delivered a "blindside hit." Sean Lee's chest being considered his "blindside" either points to the term being grossly misinterpreted by the NFL or Sean Lee has some serious Book of Eli stuff going on. Is Sean Lee the Stevie Wonder of football? I think not, enough said.
3. Golden Tate led with his head. In the above photo you can see Tate setting up for a textbook block with his shoulder. You can tell he is primarily using his shoulder because his hands are firmly grasped together in an attempt to shore up the legal battering ram that his his left shoulder and when finishing the block extends his arms out. This is the exact blocking style taught in Pop Warner! Check the youtube, check the .gif, if I can see this, why can't the NFL? Is Tate's head close to his shoulder? Amazingly, yes! Is Tate "leading" with his head? It doesn't look like it. Tate even explained afterwards that he didn't think the hit was illegal, according to a radio interview transcribed by Sports Radio Interviews.
"I didn't think I was leading with my helmet and I think I purposely aimed lower than I think anyone else would have because I didn't want to get head-to-head contact and I had no interest in hurting him. So no, I didn't lead with my head. I didn't think so."
Which leads us to #4.
4. Golden Tate hit Lee high up in the neck/head area. The above picture clearly shows the initiation point for Golden Tate's block which is, surprisingly, even lower than I initially thought. The Red Line indicates the bottom the Lee's facemask and the Green Line is the top of Tate's helmet. There is at least a football helmet's worth of space between between the two lines. If you look at the back of Lee's jersey for comparison it looks like Tate actually initiated the block in the lower 50% of the numbers. Also, look at Lee's head. If Tate had directed his block at Lee's head, rather than looking like his sternum had just run into the back of a dump truck his neck would have snapped back in the classic whiplash fashion.
It's hard to expect the Mike Periera to fully grasp the scientific field of Physics. Golden Tate, however, looks like he payed attention during Physics class. See, one of the first subjects you learn about in Physics are the forces involved with collisions. Specifically, the classic "puck problems" which deal with objects of differing masses moving and colliding with one another.
When Tate, lets call him Puck #81, realizes he has to block Lee, Puck #50, two facts are apparent: a) Puck #50 is traveling at a much higher velocity than Puck #81. b) Puck #50 is carrying much more mass than Puck #81.
With these two factors comes the physical certainty that Puck #50 is carrying more force that Puck #81.
Tate, the Baby Einstein that he is, thinks back to Physics:101 and realizes the only way to stop the force of Puck #50 with his little Puck #81 body is to greatly increase his friction! In case Mr. Periera is browsing these dark corners of the interwebs I'll use a football word: Golden Tate must increase his "leverage" in order to stop the speeding bullet that is Sean Lee; who is, mind you, attempting to catch and smash Russel Wilson.
Tate did exactly what he had to do, he drastically increased his friction by widening his base and lowering his center of mass. The collision was vicious, don't get me wrong, but I absolutely cannot see the justification for leveling a $21,000 fine against a receiver who made a downfield block on an All-Pro linebacker in order protect his QB and allow him to pick up a first down.
This whole thing deserves one big "C'mooonnnnnnn Mannnnn!"