FOXBORO, Mass. — Last Thursday, Jordan Richards became the first New England Patriots player to be victimized by the NFL’s controversial new helmet rule.
Late in the third quarter of the Patriots’ 37-20 preseason victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, Richards stepped in front of Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert to make what appeared to be a textbook tackle. Game officials disagreed, however, slapping the safety with a 15-yard penalty for “lowering the head to initiate contact.”
The flag created a firestorm on social media and left Richards scratching his head.
“Watching the film, I — whether I agree or not agree, it doesn’t matter,” Richards said Monday. “It’s a 15-yard penalty, which hurts the team. So at the end of the day, you’ve got to play the game how it’s being officiated. (The Eagles) had maybe two or three of them as well that I felt were more deserving than mine, for lack of a better way to put it.
“But that’s how they were calling the game, so you’ve got to play within the way they’re calling it. That’s kind of how it is.”
NFL referee Brad Allen earlier this month said officials planned to throw more flags during the preseason as a way to test out the league’s various new rules and points of emphasis. The enforcement of these policies has been spotty, however.
New England’s preseason opener against the Washington Redskins, for instance, did not feature any illegal use of the helmet penalties, while last week’s Patriots-Eagles game featured four, including three against Philadelphia.
Multiple Eagles players expressed disappointment with the officiating after that game, with safety Rodney McLeod, who was penalized for lowering his helmet to hit Patriots running back James White, saying: “I am hoping when the first game comes about that a routine tackle like that doesn’t get called.”
“We’ve got to play within how they’re calling it, and that’s how they were calling it for our game on Thursday night,” Richards said. “It seems watching other games, they’ve been a little bit more, I think, lax on that. I don’t know if lax is the right word, but a little more willing to hold that flag in their pockets.”
Players at Richards’ position will need to be especially careful this season. Three of the four lowering the head penalties in last Thursday’s game were called on safeties.
“It’s going to be called,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. “I could do a long interview, you could write articles — it doesn’t matter if I go out there and I get flagged three times. It’s something, I think, that everyone has to adjust to. We’re all out there.
“Sometimes, (you’re like) ‘Oh, OK. That’s what we watched. I get it.’ Then there’s other times you’re like, ‘I don’t really know.’ So I think we all kind of see what they’re looking for. You’ve got to try to adjust and play to that.”
McCourty added: “I just try to go out there and play the way I’ve played my whole career.”
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images