On Thursday, two defenders — San Diego Chargers defensive tackle Antonio Garay and Seattle Seahawks defensive end Raheem Brock — were each fined $15,000 for their below-the-knee hits on marquee quarterbacks. Garay's hit was on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, and it came with 13:45 left in the third quarter of the Patriots' eventual 35-21 victory. Despite the hit, Brady threw for 423 yards and three touchdowns, becoming the seventh quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 400 yards in back-to-back weeks.
The Garay hit is pretty simple — he gets blocked out by the center and goes to the ground. While his momentum seems to take him into Brady's lower legs, he's also got enough room to make what the zebras call "a football move," or a step in the direction he's already going, before contact. So it's interesting that there was no flag on the play, especially since he wasn't specifically blocked into Brady at all.
"I'm glad I had a knee brace on," Brady told Boston radio station WEEI in his weekly appearance.
"Those are scary when you've been through those ones before. He got me in a good spot and I'm glad the knee brace took the brunt of the force. Why I never wore a knee brace before, I have no idea --why every quarterback doesn't wear one on their left knee I have no idea. It's just so unprotected."
Of course, Brady lost most of the 2008 season when Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Bernard Pollard went into his knee and caused major ligament damage. That hit led to what is now known as the "Brady Rule," which is supposed to put game officials and the league in a position to be hyper-vigilant about these kinds of hits.
Specifically, in March of 2009, the NFL's Competition Committee made a clarification to the current rule that specially prohibits a defender who hasn't been blocked, pushed, or otherwise fouled into the quarterback from lunging or diving at or below Mr. Quarterback's knees.
That's a very important point of order for Brock's hit on Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, because it looks very much like Brock gets leg-whipped into Roethlisberger by right guard Marcus Gilbert. Brock put an outside move on Gilbert, executed an inside spin move to perfection, and the overmatched Gilbert did what most linemen would do — he put out his leg and hoped to prevent a sack.
At the very least, this should have been offsetting penalties, because last time I checked, tripping was illegal. Nonetheless, Brock was flagged for being fouled into Roethlisberger. Fortunately, Roethlisberger was able to finish the game, and it's not like a sack would have helped the Seahawks in the 24-0 shellacking they took at Heinz Field. But when I talked to Brock about the fine on Thursday, he was still unhappy.
"It cost me a sack, and I'm pissed off about it [laughs]. So, I'm really upset. It could have been a sack, caused a fumble, changed the game. But instead, I get fined — tripped up and fined."
Brock said that he and his agent have already appealed the fine. "I hope I'll hear something today. I think my agent sent [the appeal] out yesterday, so I hope to hear something today."
After tweeting a photo of the Gilbert trip out to the masses, Brock also submitted a laundry list of proof to the league.
"I sent the photos, I sent everything. I mean, all they should need is the video. It's as clear as day."
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the play is that Brock never got an explanation from head official Bill Leavy, or anyone from his crew, about what they observed. "I don't think they saw it at the time," Brock said about the leg whip. "And I don't think they cared, because the whole point was, Ben was down and I hit his leg. That's the focus right there. I don't think anything else even mattered.
"Oh, I know … I mean, I have been in this league," Brock said when asked if he expected to get fined. "I knew I was going to get fined. I just thought that was a no-brainer. But I'm gong to appeal it, because it's clear as day -- I got tripped into the quarterback."
I asked Brock if the rule is supposed to be that you must make a football move before you hit the quarterback in order to draw a flag. Understandably, he responded in a cynical and succinct fashion — I expect you'd hear something similar from most frustrated pass rushers these days.
"I have no clue what the rule is; it's just 'Don't touch the quarterback in this league,' and that's all I know. If you roll into him or anything … I don't know. Times have changed, you know?"
That's evident to anyone, but the lack of judgment in this case is particularly weird, especially since the fines came after the league actually went through and watched the plays. It's understandable that the league is always going to err on the side of protecting the quarterback, but with that in mind, why aren't the penalties for tripping defensive linemen into quarterbacks more severe. After all, if you're responsible for directing a defender into Mr. Quarterback's knees, aren't you part of the problem?
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- Raheem Brock