Thursday night’s come-from-behind win by the Colts featured an ugly first-half incident that perhaps hasn’t received the attention it deserves. It definitely didn’t receive the right amount of attention from the men who were officiating the game.
With less than five minutes remaining in the first half, Indianapolis linebacker Erik Walden grabbed the facemask of Titans tight end Delanie Walker and ripped off Walker’s helmet, away from the path of a Chris Johnson run. When Walker confronted Walden to object, Walden applied a head butt with his helmet — to Walker’s unhelmeted head.
The removal of the helmet happened as the play was ending. The head butt occurred after the whistle.
Walden was not ejected. Per a league source, the NFL realizes that Walden “clearly” should have been disqualified.
The question now becomes whether Walden will be suspended. That decision will be made as soon as Monday by Merton Hanks, who metes out the discipline on matters of this nature. Then, any suspension will be subject to appeal to either Matt Birk or Ted Cottrell, who are independently appointed and paid by the NFL and the NFLPA for matters of this nature.
It’s unclear what Hanks will do, but consider this precedent.
1. Earlier this year, Hanks suspended Texans defensive lineman Antonio Smith for two preseason games and Week One of the regular season after removing the helmet of Dolphins guard Richie Incognito and swinging it at his face. (Smith apparently did not make contact.) The conduct occurred after the play ended.
2. In 2011, Hanks suspended Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh for two games after he stomped on the arm of Packers offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith. The conduct occurred after the play ended.
3. There’s also a comparable act that occurred on the field where Walden applied the helmetless head butt to Walker. In 2006, former Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth removed the helmet of Cowboys center Andre Gurode and stomped on his head with a cleat. Haynesworth received a five-game suspension. Again, the conduct occurred after the play ended.
A suspension is possible for Walden. Given that the conduct occurred after the play and that it involved contact with a player’s head (at a time when the NFL is obsessed with protecting the thing inside it), Walden could be suspended for multiple games.
We’ll all find out more about it on Monday or Tuesday.