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Donte Whitner: Any big hit in the NFL is automatically a flag

Reggie Wayne Donte Whitner  NaVorro Bowman

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne (87) carries the ball past San Francisco 49ers safety Donte Whitner (31) and NaVorro Bowman (53) in the second half of an NFL football game in San Francisco, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)


San Francisco safety Donte Whitner was penalized on the first play of Sunday’s loss to the Colts. He wasn’t happy about it.

It was a bad call,” Whitner told “I guess it was a big hit. Any big hit now in the National Football League is automatically a flag.”

Whitner drilled Colts running back Ahmad Bradshaw after Bradshaw picked up three yards on a short pass and a flag flew immediately. Referee Terry McAulay announced, “Personal foul, unnecessary roughness, illegal contact with the crown of the helmet by the defender,” and marched off 15 yards for the Colts.

But replays showed that Whitner led with his shoulder, not the crown of his helmet. Whitner is right: The officials called a penalty not because he led with the crown of his helmet, but because he hit Bradshaw hard, and NFL officials have been so conditioned to look for helmet-to-helmet contact that sometimes they see that contact even when it isn’t there.