Bills receiver Steve Johnson, one of the most exciting young players in the NFL, finds himself in the middle of a controversy regarding the question of whether he committed a cheap shot on Chiefs safety Eric Berry.
Johnson hit Berry low, ahead of a run from Fred Jackson. The hit tore Berry’s ACL.
On Sunday, Johnson insisted via Twitter that he didn’t commit a cheap shot. Johnson elaborated on Monday.
“You don’t go out there to hurt anybody,” Johnson told WGR radio on Monday, via SportsRadioInterviews.com. “We get plays and coaches tell us what to do, and we go out and try to execute it. I went out there and did a chop block on Eric Berry, the safety. Basically, let’s say Freddy was to break that run . . . [Berry] would’ve been the next defender. That would’ve been, ‘That’s a good block, we just sprung Freddy for the touchdown.’ It just so happened to be a bad play and a bad situation. . . . I definitely don’t want that to happen to anybody.”
Johnson also said that he has let opposing defenders know that cut blocks are coming before games.
The hit has prompted criticism not only of Johnson but of a system of rules that permits low hits to the legs of defensive players. NBC’s Rodney Harrison, a former NFL safety, was livid when I spoke to him on Monday, calling the hit by Johnson “cowardly.” Harrison, who got more angry the more we spoke about the situation, said that defensive players deserve protection against hits that can end seasons and alter careers.
Harrison also wondered whether Johnson would call Berry to apologize for causing the injury, and/or to generally check on him. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said during Monday night’s episode of NBC SportsTalk on VERSUS that he believes Johnson will do that.
Apparently, it hasn’t happened. Said Johnson on WGR, “I don’t have his number or nothing, but I mean, shoot, anybody out there listening should know I ain’t trying to hurt nobody or nothing.”
It’ll be easy to get Berry’s number, if Johnson truly wants it. The broader question is whether hits like the one that tore Berry’s ACL need to be removed from the game, and whether the league will protect defensive players the same way that it protects offensive players.