OWINGS MILLS – Issuing hefty fines with suspensions promised for future infractions, the NFL is taking a hard line toward illegal hits.
The league has reacted to New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather’s vicious helmet-to-helmet shot on Baltimore Ravens tight end Todd Heap, fining him $50,000.
The increased enforcement of existing rules, including NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announcing Wednesday that even first-time offenders could be suspended for illegal hits in the future, has raised concerns in locker rooms around the league.
Especially from defensive players like Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who called NFL players modern day gladiators.
"It’s definitely getting a little soft concerning certain areas of the game, but you’ve got to continue to play," Suggs said. "You’ve got to adapt and overcome, but I’m not going to worry about it. They can do whatever they want. I’m going to play football."
While fans love to marvel at devastating hits, the league is concerned about safety and the reputation of the league.
That’s why Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison was fined $75,000 for his concussion-causing hit on Cleveland Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi and Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson was fined $50,000 for his huge hit on Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson.
"As far as the rule, it’s kind of a double-edged sword," Suggs said. "I’m kind of 50-50 with it. I have no problem with them enforcing it, but I think the amount the guys were fined, I think that’s a bit excessive, especially because I think a couple of them were first-time offenders. You’ve got to understand that this is a physical sport. We’re the gladiators of our time.
"You don’t want to see hits like that, but it’s part of the game. Now, a defenseless receiver stretching out for a ball, a defensive back comes and lays into him with his helmet, I’m totally against that. I wouldn’t want to do that to anybody, I wouldn’t want anybody to do that to one of my guys. If a running back or receiver running the ball, ducks their head down and that’s the only way I can get him down is to hit them with mine, that’s football."
Suggs vowed that he has no intentions of altering his aggressive approach to the game.
"Nothing changes the way I play," Suggs said. "I’m going to play football at 100 miles per hour, and that goes for how they hit me, too. If I happen to be on the short end of the stick, I don’t think you should adjust the way you play for anybody."
Meanwhile, wide receiver Derrick Mason is unconvinced that the stern warning issued by Goodell and NFL vice president of football operations Ray Anderson will stop players from breaking the rules.
"Does the threat of throwing somebody in jail stop people from robbing people?" Mason said. "Football is football. They’re going to continue to play. I don’t think guys do it on purpose. There might be one or two instances where a guy goes in there with his helmet. I think for the most part, guys don’t go in because they understand and they know that more than likely, it’s not the person that’s getting hit that’s going to get hurt — it’s them. So guys are not going in there intentionally with their helmet. It just happens sometimes that way because of the position that their body is in or the position that the ball catcher is in.
"So I don’t think it is going to be a deterrent. It was just unfortunate that this week we had a lot of them, but in previous weeks there wasn’t many. All of a sudden now, there were three or four or five this week. Now, ‘It’s out of control.’ I don’t think it’s out of control. I just think it was isolated incidents."
Mason made the point that the NFL is bending to the public backlash stemming from Sunday’s violent collisions.
Former NFL safety Rodney Harrison, one of the most heavily fined players in NFL history, said on NBC that action needed to be taken.
"I think it was pressure from outside sources," Mason said. "People don’t want to see other people sprawled out on the ground and can’t move. Other players don’t want to see it. It was an isolated incident. It was a few isolated situations this week. Last week, I don’t think there were any. The week before that, I don’t think there were many. I think this week it was just more than usual, so there was an outcry
"And whenever you have a commentator getting on television saying these guys need to be fined, then the commissioner is going to listen and he’s going to do something. I hope that this thing doesn’t get out of hand, because seriously, in my heart of hearts, I don’t think guys are doing it on purpose."
All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis said he won’t hesitate to deliver a blow because he’s thinking about being fined or suspended.
The game is about reactions, Lewis emphasized.
"If you go into the game thinking about any of that stuff, the game will be diluted very quickly," Lewis said. "You look at all those hits, those are hits that you go into your defensive room and you’re getting praised because that’s the way game of football is supposed to be played. Whatever happens, happens.
"I don’t care if it’s a fine or if it’s a suspension. If you do, you get yourself in trouble. That’s like going out on the field worrying about an injury, if you’re going to get hurt. The game is called tackling and hitting, and that part of the game will never change. Hopefully, they understand that both sides are at risk."
MCGAHEE SAYS HE WASN’T PUNISHED: Veteran running back Willis McGahee denied that he was being punished for any violation of team rules when asked why he didn’t play a single snap against the Patriots.
"Where is everyone getting this punishment thing from?" McGahee said. "You all think I’m this bad guy who did something wrong? I was on time for everything. I went to every meeting. There was no punishment, not that I know of. I didn’t do anything wrong. I hope it wasn’t a punishment."
This marked the first time he didn’t play in a game since joining the Ravens when he was physically capable of participating.
McGahee isn’t injured.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh has said that McGahee wasn’t being punished and will be involved more going forward.
Meanwhile, McGahee said he wasn’t sweating trade rumors heading into Tuesday’s NFL deadline.
"I don’t know, that’s been going on for like a year and a half now, it is what it is," McGahee said. "It is what it is. I couldn’t do nothing about it about it. I’m happy to be here. I like this locker room. It’s a great place.
"My agent said he would let me know if anything was going to happen. I wasn’t sitting by the phone or anything. I wasn’t watching ESPN. I was playing video games. I went and bought a new Spiderman game."
McGahee said he’ll remain patient and wait his turn behind Pro Bowl runner Ray Rice.
"I look at it the same way: If they call my number, I’m going to go out there and play," McGahee said. "This week, next week, whenever they need me. I took it in stride. I didn’t take it as no slap in the face or anything."
INJURY UPDATE: The Ravens ruled out offensive tackle Jared Gaither (thoracic disc injury), wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth (broken foot) and inside linebacker Tavares Gooden (dislocated left shoulder).
Tight end Todd Heap (neck) didn’t practice, but a magnetic resonance imaging exam determined that he doesn’t have a concussion or structural damage to his neck.
And free safety Tom Zbikowski didn’t practice due to a heel injury and is regarded as a question mark to play this week.
"It’s one of those things that could take two days, as soon as it settles down, or it could take a week or two," Zbikowski said. "You just have to see. It got progressively worse. There’s only so much you can do. When things aren’t too badly injured, they feel better as you’re doing them. This thing kept getting worse."
He was relieved that X-rays determined he didn’t hurt his Achilles tendon.
"As an athlete, that’s your worst nightmare," Zbikowski said. "I’ve seen a dude snap his Achilles and it’s not something I want to see or happen to me. You’ve got to err on the side of caution. You rest it and let it settle down. It’s basically just irritated."
The following players were limited: running back Ray Rice (ankle), wide receiver Derrick Mason (finger, ankle), linebacker Jarret Johnson (back), defensive end Paul Kruger (sprained medial collateral ligament), safety Haruki Nakamura (back), cornerback Josh Wilson (strained hamstring) and wide receiver Marcus Smith (back).
Kruger isn’t expected back until after the Ravens’ bye week.
"Absolutely," Kruger said. "It’s getting better. It’s a couple weeks of recovery. I’m excited about the bye. It’s going to be two weeks to get it back healthy.
"I’m doing a bunch of different rehab stuff, lifting and treadmill every day. Running will irritate it a little bit, but that’s good to get it moving and get it working and let it recover."
Linebacker Edgar Jones (bruised thigh) participated fully.
Meanwhile, Buffalo Bills offensive tackle Cornell Green (knee) and cornerback Terrence McGee (back) didn’t practice
Nose guard Kyle Williams and linebackers Keith Ellison (ankle) and Arthur Moats (elbow) didn’t practice.
Tight end Shawn Nelson (groin) and safety Byron Scott (knee) participated fully.
QUICK HITS: The Ravens are set to honor their Super Bowl championship team on the 10-year anniversary of their victory over the New York Giants at halftime of Sunday’s game.
Over 35 members of the 2000 team will be present. That includes Jonathan Ogden, Michael McCrary, Jamal Lewis, and Tony Siragusa.
At halftime, each player will be introduced.
"A champion is always a champion," said Lewis, the Super Bowl XXXV MVP. "The feeling of that confetti dropping and looking at those men’s eyes — you recreate that moment coming back 10 years later. Seeing those guys come back is just a heck of a reward. And for that to be this week, I think that’s going to be huge. Not just for us, but for our fans as well in Baltimore." … Fullback Le’Ron McClain insisted that he didn’t run in the wrong direction on a fourth-quarter fullback dive that came up short. "Yeah, I went the right way," McClain said. "I don’t know what else to say."