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League quietly shifts focus of helmet-to-helmet hits


As the NFL continues to pay close attention to illegal hits on defenseless receivers, the league quietly has shifted its focus regarding borderline calls.

Per a league source, the NFL no longer tells officials to err on the side of protecting players when assessing whether a defenseless receiver has been struck in the head or neck area, or on any part of his body with the defender’s helmet.

During Sunday’s game between the Buccaneers and the Jets, the officials flagged Tampa safety Dashon Goldson for hitting New York tight end Jeff Cumberland in a way that violates the rules. It appeared that Goldson put his shoulder into the Cumberland’s chest. As the league sees it, we’re told, Goldson still made contact with his helmet in the head/neck area of the defenseless receiver.

If the officials had thrown the flag without prohibited conduct occurring, they would have nevertheless received a downgrade. Erring on the side of safety no longer applies -- possibly because the goal is to avoid erring of any kind. Instead, the league’s new focus will be aggressively enforcing the rule.

While it doesn’t mean that mistakes won’t be made by officials who are trying to get the call right in real time, it means that the officials no longer have a safety net that would encourage them to whip it out, when in doubt.