Two Panthers had their helmets off during celebration of late touchdown

USA TODAY Sports

The rule has been in place in 1997. Whether it makes sense is one thing. (It arguably doesn’t.) Whether it’s applied consistently is another. (It isn’t.) As applied on Sunday against the Panthers following a late, unlikely touchdown pass that tied the game against the Falcons at 34, it was the right call.

First adopted in 1997, the rule identifies the following as a “prohibited act” in the category of unsportsmanlike conduct: “Removal of his helmet by a player in the field of play or the end zone during a celebration or demonstration, or during a confrontation with a game official or any other player.”

Yesterday wasn’t the first time it affected the outcome of a game. In 2002, it happened to the Browns and linebacker Dwayne Rudd, who removed his helmet and threw it while celebrating what he believed was the game-clinching play. The flag gave the Chiefs 15 yards and an untimed down. They tried, and made, a game-winning field goal.

It’s been suggested that, because Panthers receiver DJ Moore didn’t actually remove his helmet on the playing field, he wasn’t in the “field of play or the end zone” within the language of the rule. As one source with knowledge of the application of the rule explained it to PFT, the rule is intended to prevent a player from taking his helmet off, throwing it, and running around without it as part of a demonstration in any portion of the field of play, whether within the boundaries of the gridiron or beyond it.

There’s another issue that hasn’t gotten much, if any, attention. Watch the play. Watch it all the way to the end. After Moore removes his helmet, jumps into the stands, and comes back down, tight end Stephen Sullivan, No. 84, enters the celebration without a helmet. He was on the field during the play — and removed his helmet while in the playing field — or he joined the celebration from the sideline. Either way, there was a violation of the rules.

So, either way, it was a proper application of the rules. Whether the helmet-removal rule is applied consistently — and it isn’t — is a different issue. Whether the rule makes sense — and it arguably doesn’t — is another.

The rule is a close cousin to the recent emphasis on taunting, in that it expects players who play an emotional port to instantly become robots. That’s just not realistic, and it ignores the fundamental humanity of the men who play the game.

That said, it remains a rule. It has been a rule for 25 years. And the coaching point is easy. Always keep your helmet out until you’re back in the bench area, after the play and the celebration have ended.

7 responses to “Two Panthers had their helmets off during celebration of late touchdown

  1. Stefon Diggs also didn’t get a flag thrown at the end of the Minnesota Miracle a few years back, when he sent the Saints packing.

  2. Simply be smart enough to know that the winning score is the extra point. Also, that the winning score was needed while the game was still in regulation and not in OT. The moment the winning occurs in sudden death OT, the game is over and thus, there is no dead ball foul.

  3. Stefon Diggs also didn’t get a flag thrown at the end of the Minnesota Miracle a few years back, when he sent the Saints packing.
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    Would have been irrelevant because they beat the Saints by more than a single point.

  4. So two flags should have been thrown.

    @ iejdaniel Diggs’ touchdown was a walk off. Completely different scenarios.

  5. Terry McAulay says Moore shouldn’t have been flagged. That said, can NY rescind the flag and failed to do so? Then finally, Hawkeye finds two other players (Perry Fewell told ESPN last night) who removed their helmets and were on the field. But were these helmet fouls flagged? If not, then it raises the question of whether NY is allowed to place a flag on the two others. Ultimately, this sounds like a real “snow job” by Perry Fewell, trying to justify the fact that there WAS a foul, just not on Moore. So, at the end of the day, the NY office fudged its own rules and procedures to get to the “right” outcome. Smells fishy.

  6. The rule is a close cousin to the recent emphasis on taunting, in that it expects players who play an emotional port to instantly become robots. That’s just not realistic, and it ignores the fundamental humanity of the men who play the game.
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    I know right. Expected grown men to control themselves is just so unfair. We ALL know the difference between celebrating and taunting, but for some reason there are people who just pretend to have no idea when these things happens.

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