Patriots, Eagles Get Firsthand Look At NFL’s Controversial New Helmet Rule

FOXBORO, Mass. — In his meeting with New England reporters before last week’s Patriots preseason opener, NFL referee Brad Allen said to expect an uptick in flags this month as officials adjust to some of the league’s new regulations.

That certainly was the case in Thursday night’s game between the Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles at Gillette Stadium, which featured a total of 16 accepted penalties and produced some postgame grousing from Philadelphia defenders.

Included in those 16 flags were four for violations of the controversial illegal use of the helmet rule — three by the Eagles, one by the Patriots — which was implemented this past offseason.

Eagles safety Rodney McLeod received the first such penalty when officials determined he lowered his head to tackle running back James White after a 22-yard run on New England’s first possession.

McLeod disagreed with the call, saying he hopes that type of hit will not draw a penalty once the regular season begins.

“It is my understanding that it was more so for leading with the crown of your head and more helmet to helmet,” McLeod told reporters after the game, which the Patriots won 37-20. “It felt like on that play, I didn’t do either. I went low and led with my shoulder, and (White) saw me coming and he obviously tried to get lower himself.

“They made the call, and I asked the referee why he called it. He said any type of movement where you do lower your head during the preseason, they are going to call it. I am hoping when the first game comes about that a routine tackle like that doesn’t get called.”

McLeod added: “As players, we just have to adjust with the rules, and I am hoping that these calls that were called (Thursday night) are not going to be called on a consistent basis. I felt like a lot of those were not fouls.”

Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham and safety Jeremy Reaves also were penalized under the new helmet rule — officially announced as “lowering the head to initiate contact” — and safety Malcolm Jenkins was flagged for unnecessary roughness after he leveled receiver Cordarrelle Patterson following an incomplete pass.

Jenkins, who delivered the hit that knocked Brandin Cooks out of Super Bowl LII, took issue with that call.

“On my penalty, I asked why it took so long to throw the flag, to which (the official) responded that he was processing it,” he told reporters. “The explanation I got for the flag was that I didn’t have to hit (Patterson), which is kind of the opposite of what my job description is. So I don’t understand that.”

The Patriots’ lone illegal use of the helmet penalty — their first of the preseason — was called on safety Jordan Richards for a tackle he made on Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert late in the third quarter. The flag drew criticism on social media and on the Patriots’ home broadcast, with color commentator Scott Zolak saying: “Ugh, go away. Give me a break.”

Patriots coach Bill Belichick struck a different tone when asked about the penalty during his Friday morning conference call.

“We’re just going to have to try and do a good job of getting a clear understanding, and these are plays that help define what it is and what isn’t allowed,” Belichick said. “It doesn’t really matter what we think. What matters is what the officials think and what they see and what they’re going to call. We’ll have to adjust to the way the game is being called, not the other way around.

“We’ll examine those plays and ask about some other ones that are similar and try to do as good a job of teaching that rule as we can. I’m sure the players will do as good a job of playing it as they can. No player wants to get a 15-yard penalty, so we might have to adjust our style or technique a little bit as we go here.”

Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images

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