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


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.

39 responses to “When a runner’s helmet comes off, he’s down

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

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

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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…

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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?

  17. 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.

  18. 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!

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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?

  22. 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.

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

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