By Rich Tandler
After Ryan Kerrigan turned a tipped pass into six points to give his team a 21-14 lead early in the third quarter, the Redskins spent the rest of the third quarter and about half of the fourth trying to get another score to put the Giants away. They came up empty on their next three possessions and New York was still very much in the game.
It looked like the Redskins’ fourth attempt to expand their lead had come up empty. On a third and nine play from the Washington 45 with just over eight minutes left to play, Fred Davis had to go to the ground to catch Rex Grossman’s pass two yards short of the first-down marker.
But the Redskins then got a break. Safety Antrel Rolle came in and hit Davis while he was on the ground. A second later, a flag flew and Rolle was penalized for unnecessary roughness. Five plays later, Grossman threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Jabar Gaffney and the Redskins’ six-game losing streak against the Giants was all but over.
Both Rolle and Giants coach Tom Coughlin disagreed with the call. “The penalty in the drive, which there’s no one touching the receiver [when he first went to the ground],” Coughlin said. “That’s a very difficult call for me.” The coach did say that since the call was on the other side of the field he did not have a very good view of it.
Rolle thought he did nothing wrong. "I definitely didn't lead with my helmet," Rolle said. "To say I led with my helmet is definitely crazy. I've never, ever tackled any opponent by leading with my helmet."
The video evidence suggests otherwise. Here is a screen shot of the moment of contact:
Rolle’s left hand may have made contact with Davis just before his helmet did but the full video replay shows that the hand was just touching him. In other words, the hand did not deliver any sort of blow; all of the contact came from the helmet. His right arm did not involved in the initial contact.
It was an aggressive hit, but not a very hard one. A couple of years ago, a flag may not have been thrown on the play. The Redskins would have had to punt and the Giants would have had the ball down by seven.
But this is the NFL in 2011 and the officials have been told to err on the side of player safety in such situations.
Here is the rule (Rule 12, Article 9, newly clarified this season):
It is a foul if a player initiated unnecessary contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture.
Subsection A defenseless players who are in a defenseless posture. Item 2 has one of these definitions as "a receiver attempting to catch a pass or who has completed a catch and has not had time to proctect himself or has not clearly become a runner."
Given that Davis was sprawled out on the ground, he had "not clearly become a runner." Thus the flag, a big break for the Redskins but certainly a legitimate call.