For the first time all season, an offensive player was penalized for the helmet rule. Officials threw a flag on Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott for lowering his head to initiate contact.
“We’re just making some calls here that are tough, but we’re doing it for protection and safety,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “That’s the biggest question being asked: How do you play?
“. . . I don’t won’t Zeke to stop punishing them on the end of his runs. Upon further review, they both tucked their heads. Zeke is a punishing runner. That’s what we want in the NFL. That is a physical aspect of football that we want to give our fans. I’ll certainly do everything I can to not make those kinds of things penalties.”
Elliott hit Eagles safety Corey Graham at the end of a 14-yard pass. Elliott appeared to get the worst of it, going into the blue medical tent and missing five plays.
Elliott said he briefly lost feeling in his arm.
“I mean when you’re on that sideline, I’ve got to protect myself,” Elliott said. “And if a guy’s going low, I’ve got to go low, too. The rule is meant for the betterment of the game. The rule is for our safety, and if there was illegal helmet-to-helmet contact on there, that’s something I need to go look at and work on. That’s not OK. It’s just a tough play.”
The NFL largely forgot about the “lowering the helmet” rule that raised such a ruckus in the preseason. Through the first 13 weeks of the season, officials had thrown 10 flags for use of helmet, according to Kevin Seifert of ESPN. All were on defensive players.
But the NFL’s senior vice president of officiating, Al Riveron, has called out offensive players on his weekly videos. He has used a play from Raiders running back Doug Martin and Patriots running back Sony Michel as examples of illegal hits under the use-of-the-helmet rule.
Neither Martin nor Michel was fined. The NFL did fine former Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt $26,739 for unnecessary roughness after he lowered his head to run through Broncos safety Justin Simmons earlier this season.
Referee Clete Blakeman, whose crew called the penalty on Elliott on Sunday, said Elliott “initiated the contact against the defender with the helmet as it’s defined in the rule book.”
“It’s hard. It’s a hard game, and what we do is hard,” Blakeman said in a pool report. “But we feel good about that call. A couple of us, actually two of us, had it as the same foul from different angles.”