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When a runner’s helmet comes off, he’s down

David Reed, Trumaine Johnson AP

During Sunday’s loss to the Rams, Colts receiver David Reed caught a pass and had his helmet pulled off by Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan at the 3-yard line. Reed stayed up, lunged forward and stuck the ball over the goal line, and the official signaled touchdown.

But it wasn’t a touchdown.

As NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino explained in a video distributed to the media, as soon as a ball carrier’s helmet comes off, the play is over. The NFL doesn’t want anyone getting tackled while not wearing a helmet, and so the rule is that a ball carrier who doesn’t have a helmet on is down.

“The ruling on the field was a touchdown, and you see the receiver’s helmet comes off,” Blandino said. “When the runner’s helmet comes off — only the runner — once it separates completely from the head, the play is over. It’s dead. Player safety — this rule was put in a couple years ago. It’s basically just like this runner being down.”

Blandino noted that the referee eventually looked at the replay and overruled the touchdown call in the Rams-Colts game, but he sounded disappointed that it had to be reviewed because the official on the field let it go.

“We let it go, came back in replay and reverse it, which was the right thing to do. We should have it correct on the field, though. The helmet is off, obviously it’s off. The official needs to see this,” Blandino said.

Replay review can be used to determine whether a helmet came off prior to a runner crossing the goal line, or whether a helmet came off prior to a player losing possession of the ball. The same rules that govern a player down by contact apply. But the ball carrier who loses his helmet is down, and the days of Jason Witten running down the field without his helmet are over.

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39 Responses to “When a runner’s helmet comes off, he’s down”
  1. tdubdizzle says: Nov 16, 2013 7:45 AM

    Good rule.

  2. tdubdizzle says: Nov 16, 2013 7:46 AM

    Jason Witten is overrated. Yeah, I said it.

  3. snaponrules says: Nov 16, 2013 7:50 AM

    Doesn’t that rule entice DB’s to rip the helmet off?

    Like in this case, you get what turns into a 1 yard penalty on the defence and the offense loses the TD.

  4. belleby123 says: Nov 16, 2013 8:04 AM

    Cool, if you can horse collar a guy or pull his helmet off you can save a touchdown. Is that how it’s supposed to work?

  5. bukes111 says: Nov 16, 2013 8:08 AM

    So is it a late hit if a ball carrier loses his helmet & the ref doesn’t blow the whistle right away & the ball carrier gets tackled 10 yds down field. If not, where’s the protection.

  6. ufanforreal says: Nov 16, 2013 8:08 AM

    The play was reviewed and Reed had stepped out of bounds I believe at the 5 yard line, the play was reviewed for being out of bounds and was stop for that, not his helmet being off.

  7. brucetrimble says: Nov 16, 2013 8:13 AM

    NFL officiating is the worst it has ever been. The refs don’t know the rules and each game is officiated differently, which undermines the quality and, in this case, the safety of the players. The game needs full time refs during the season who, when not officiating during the games, train and prepare just liken the players. It may be an honor to have community leaders serve as part time refs, but the game needs full time employees and the fans deserve better.

  8. betterandbetterthan says: Nov 16, 2013 8:13 AM

    But totally okay to tackle someone without it, because you certainly can’t be hurt doing that.

  9. jetsjetsjetsnow says: Nov 16, 2013 8:19 AM

    There should be some kind of caveat languaging to the rule if when the helmet comes off & the player is Unimpeded to the goal line the play is allowed to continue. Otherwise its a rule with good intention that has no distinction and is not fair in all instances, will impact game outcomes and promote last ditch attempts by defenders to have a play called dead. It may not happen much but once is enough say if a win means advancing in playoffs or the Superbowl is on the line.

  10. redbearwoodall says: Nov 16, 2013 8:26 AM

    I like this rule. I don’t like how it’s enforced (badly). If I didn’t know all the rules at my job, I’d be fired. Why do the refs get away with it!

  11. cakesw says: Nov 16, 2013 8:39 AM

    Remember when Finegan used to be good? That was a Looooong time ago….now he is basically a football version of a Hockey Goon. A talentless slug whose only contributions come from annoying plagede om The other team in Hopes of having them draw a penalty.

  12. Chip Caray's Eyebrows says: Nov 16, 2013 8:39 AM

    of course it was Finnegan who pulled off somebody’s helmet. What a piece of trash.

  13. groleo45 says: Nov 16, 2013 8:44 AM

    If a non-ball carrier’s helmet comes off, however, headbutting that person is acceptable.

  14. jmblosser82 says: Nov 16, 2013 8:46 AM

    Betterandbetterthan, getting tackled with no helmet is different the tackling with no helmet. When you have the ball your the target, everyone is after you. If your a helmet less defender no one is gunning for you.

    I wonder how many players actually know this rule. I mean it surprises me when QBs in recent tied games don’t know the rules of 1 overtime period during the regular season. The ball carrier very rarely loses his helmet completely so I am sure no players know the rule and when it does happen people are still gunning for them.

    Another good idea that’s poorly conceived. Also full time refs is a better solution, but that’s not enough cause there are players that don’t know overtime rules let alone obscure ones.

  15. pixelito says: Nov 16, 2013 8:50 AM

    Too bad Jason Witten looks like the kid on the Campbell’s soup can.

  16. enoughofthatalready says: Nov 16, 2013 9:07 AM

    How does this rule equate to player safety? Just because a player’s helmet comes off, it does not mean that the players will immediately stop in their tracks on the play. We do not live in the Matrix. Okay, blow the play dead but the player can still get injured in the delay afterwards especially if the guy is diving for the goal line or there is another defender in the area. Perhaps the technology of holding a helmet to the player’s head can be improved from the 1960’s chin strap buttons so that the helmet does not easily come off.

  17. steelersaregodsteam says: Nov 16, 2013 9:48 AM

    When is the league going to improve the quality of helmets? They keep changing the game, but not much change to the equipment, which seems kind of backwards.

  18. poiuyt7 says: Nov 16, 2013 9:50 AM

    Is anyone else amazed at how often helmets have been coming off lately? That never used to happen. Now you’ll see a helmet come off at least once a game.

  19. arwiv says: Nov 16, 2013 9:58 AM

    I never even knew this rule existed. Then again, how often do you see helmetless guys running around with the ball anyway? If its off they are usually already on the ground. Its basically the guys in the trenches who are losing their helmets.

  20. mdp44 says: Nov 16, 2013 10:17 AM

    Remember when Andre Johnson punched connivance in the face

  21. gergie1957 says: Nov 16, 2013 10:28 AM

    I miss the replacement officials, they got a bad rap. These guys make crappy calls all the time, there just not under the same microscope.

    As for the helmet rule, If I see a guy going into a pile on the goal line and his chin strap is lose , that helmets coming off.

  22. mdp44 says: Nov 16, 2013 10:51 AM

    Finnigan, don’t know auto correct got that

  23. jetsjetsjetsnow says: Nov 16, 2013 10:52 AM

    Those newer helmets with shock absorbers in them look they could work pretty good!? I wonder how well they aftually do work & how many players use them?

    Somebody should create a high tech 3 dimensional digital imagery documentary & superimpose that over real video footage about the whole helmet thing…

  24. bennyb82 says: Nov 16, 2013 10:52 AM

    That Jason Witten TD without the helmet was classic.

  25. justintuckrule says: Nov 16, 2013 10:52 AM

    Terrible rule! Some of the greatest momentum swings have been when a runners helmet gets torn off and he still trucks for extra yardage. In all my years watching, I’ve never seen a defender head hunt when that happens. They know better. It’s self policed perfectly. Can’t the player choose to go down himself? Another rule to take the fun out. This league blows.

  26. skinsfolife says: Nov 16, 2013 10:56 AM

    Another call goes the gifted colts way. What do you know?

  27. classyjacklambert says: Nov 16, 2013 10:57 AM

    And another hit to the excitement in football…

  28. justintuckrule says: Nov 16, 2013 10:59 AM

    Replace those antiquated snaps with the same buckles they use on child car seats and the problem is solved. You’re welcome to the 900 overpaid nfl safety staffers who’ve never stepped foot on a field.

  29. longdrive2011 says: Nov 16, 2013 11:00 AM

    How did the helmet come off? An act of nature? What a bunch of boobs in the booth, in this column, and even this league rule expert. How can you watch this play and not immediately notice and connect on the horsecollar?

  30. conormacleod says: Nov 16, 2013 11:04 AM

    Some of you guys will complain about anything. It seems most here would only be happy with Gladiators vs Tigers in the Coliseum.

  31. gatorstormfins says: Nov 16, 2013 11:20 AM

    The helmet would probably stay on better if the players would click all of their straps down. I see tons of players with one strap that is hanging down. If a defender decides to pull them helmet off to stop the player of their own helmet or the opposing player it would be a penalty so there is no advantage for them to remove it.

  32. silvernblak says: Nov 16, 2013 11:33 AM

    The officiating is absolutely horrible! Every crew calls a game different then another. When will you guys stop using Bandino and Peoria contradicting the officials inability to get calls right? You guys should all be on the same page and not throwing red flags at each other during a game! For the money we fans pay to watch games We deserve better then this garbage you call professional refs!

  33. mackcarrington says: Nov 16, 2013 11:49 AM

    Go on YouTube and search up Marion Motley.

  34. rhamrhoddy says: Nov 16, 2013 11:50 AM

    Not only do all the new rules, developed to protect the players health and/or the owners wallets, make the NFL product worse, it’s making it that much tougher to officiate a game.

    Not only does the league exclusively hire part-time officials to save a few bucks but when you combine these referees who can’t hone their craft on a full-time basis with a constantly evolving rule book, the officiating and the overall product suffers.

    Back in the day, these part-time refs could at least rely on common sense to handle most scenarios. Now instead of just officiating a game instinctively as they have always done, they have to overthink the close plays to make sure they are protecting the shield.

    I’ve said it before and I will say it again, the NFL will make tons of money in the short-term (as will the owners and the commissioner) but it is already well on its way to dying a slow, gradual, painful death.

    Enjoy it while you can sports fans.

  35. chiadam says: Nov 16, 2013 12:11 PM

    Ball carriers will still run without their helmets on, and tacklers will still tackle a guy they see running with the ball. It’s instinct, like advancing a muffed punt even though you can’t.

  36. poridge1214 says: Nov 16, 2013 12:18 PM

    Why are people complaining that it entices defenders to pull a guy’s helmet off instead of tackling him? Do you realize how much more difficult it is to pull a helmet off as opposed to just hitting a guy or wrapping him up?

  37. eatitfanboy says: Nov 16, 2013 12:21 PM

    belleby123 says:
    Nov 16, 2013 8:04 AM
    Cool, if you can horse collar a guy or pull his helmet off you can save a touchdown. Is that how it’s supposed to work?

    If you can get close enough to rip someone’s helmet off, why wouldn’t you just tackle them?

    If this does become a problem, the NFL can institute a rule from Rugby: If a player does something blatantly illegal and dangerous to prevent a player who otherwise would have had a clear path to the end zone, the referee can award the score, and the player is still penalized.

  38. whitecastleisafoodgroup says: Nov 16, 2013 1:22 PM

    So it’s realistic to say that the winner of the Super Bowl could come down to a defective chin strap.

    That’s just awesome. Cheers, NFL. Cheers.

  39. dudeicle says: Nov 16, 2013 1:37 PM

    soon the on-field officials will put both arms up after every play so that it automatically goes to review

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