As Falcons and Panthers meet again, here’s a primer on the helmet-removal rule

Carolina Panthers v Atlanta Falcons
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Tonight, the Falcons and Panthers meet again, just 11 days after a memorable Week Eight barnburner that included one of the best throws the NFL has seen in recent years, coupled with one of its most boneheaded celebrations.

With Carolina trailing by six points in the final minute of regulation, quarterback P.J. Walker and receiver D.J. Moore connected on a 62-yard touchdown pass, with Walker firing a piss missile that traveled 67.6 yards in the air. After making the reception for the game-tying touchdown, pending the extra point, Moore removed his helmet in celebration. The officials threw a flag, enforcing a rule the NFL passed 25 years ago — a No-Fun League mandate aimed at stopping the trend of players scoring touchdowns and ripping off their headgear.

A narrative emerged in the aftermath of the game that Moore shouldn’t have been penalized because he removed his helmet on the white stripe at the back of the end zone, which technically falls beyond “the field of play or the end zone.” As we pointed out on the Monday after the game, that interpretation defies the intent of the rule. It also creates a loophole that would allow, for example, all 11 offensive players to line up on the white stripe beyond the end zone and remove their helmets one after the other, like a Rockettes routine.

That should have settled it, as of 4:34 p.m. ET on Halloween. But then came ESPN’s Monday Night Countdown, which included an appearance from NFL senior V.P. of football administration Perry Fewell. He confused the situation, and he inadvertently gave credence to the notion that there’s a quick and easy loophole to the helmet-removal rule.

Although the NFL privately would say that Fewell is wrong, that there’s no loophole based on clearing the back of the end zone, the league further muddied the waters by not fining Moore for removing his helmet, and instead by fining Panthers tight end Stephen Sullivan, who definitely removed his helmet in the field of play.

While there isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be, any confusion as to what the rule says and where it applies, the officials continue to fail to enforce it consistently. In Week Nine, for example, the same crew (led by Shawn Hochuli) that worked the Panthers-Falcon game failed to penalize Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey for removing his helmet in the field of play after L.A. made a fourth-and-goal stop with just under two minutes to play.

So, to summarize, players should not remove their helmets in celebration anywhere. They should do so only after any celebration has ended, ideally in the bench area. However, given that the game officials are woefully inconsistent when it comes to enforcing the rule, some players who remove their helmets will continue to get lucky.

And some fans will wonder whether the inconsistency in calling the foul traces to the fix being in.

“Normal incidents of the game such as bad snaps, dropped passes, turnovers, penalty flags and play calling inevitably will fuel speculation, distrust and accusations of point-shaving and game-fixing.” That’s the quote from Commissioner Roger Goodell in 2009, when the NFL was trying to beat back Delaware’s effort to open the floodgates to legalized gambling.

Those floodgates have since flown opened, and the league is swimming in even more cash. If some of that money isn’t devoted to ironing out these inconsistencies, the league could have a very real problem.

4 responses to “As Falcons and Panthers meet again, here’s a primer on the helmet-removal rule

  1. Aside from any teams in the AFC South I couldn’t think of 2 teams I care less about.

  2. Yet I saw at least 3 different times a player removed
    their helmet this last weekend. Not a single flag?

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