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2 reasons why Le’Veon Bell helmet-less TD can never be TD

Player safety must trump exceptions to the rule

bell helmetDuring the Ravens-Steelers Thanksgiving night football game, the Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell was lunging toward the goal line when he was hit with a devastating blow from the Ravens, knocking his helmet off.   Bell maintained consciousnesses long enough to fall across the  goal line with the ball.   The officials initially awarded Bell with a touchdown; however referee Clete Blakeman  properly applied Rule 7-2-1(r)

An official shall declare the ball dead and the down ended … when a runner’s helmet comes completely off.

This is combined with other dead-ball situations that are inflexible, such as down by contact, ball out of bounds, and forward progress stopped.

Many  thought this was  unfair, and the rule “cheated” Bell out of a touchdown after putting his body on the line. But there are two reasons why  a play like  Bell’s, as good as it was, can never be a touchdown.

1.   Player safety.   The rule was instituted to  end plays like this helmet-less run by Cowboys tight end Jason Witten (video).   In this  day and age of player safety, and the campaign  protect  the players’ heads, the NFL  was almost forced to  make this rule.      While there are many exceptions to NFL rules, in the interest of player safety, the NFL cannot budge on this one.   A potential change could be to have the official delay the whistle until the player makes a “football move,” thus allowing a lunge like Bell’s into the end zone.   But, the NFL must protect the player and get the play shut down immediately when the helmet comes off.   What if the NFL allowed the player to make a “football move,” the referee hesitates for a second or two, and a defender lays out the helmet-less ball carrier?   That could result in a critical, even fatal, injury.   The play must end immediately, no exceptions, even if it means a play like Bell’s is wiped out.

2.   No grey area. In this case, an official’s judgement must not factor in when making the ruling.   Blakeman may have regretted taking the Bell touchdown away, but the rule did not allow him any leeway.   Officials make several judgement calls during each game, but the NFL, in the interest of player safety, does not allow each official to apply their shadings to the lost helmet  rule.   The NFL wants their officials to be consistent in applying the rules properly, and a black-and-white rule like the helmet rule, makes the ruling consistent every time.

It is a shame that Bell’s great play did not result in a touchdown; however for player safety, the NFL and its officials cannot make any exceptions.

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Mark Schultz
Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"

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9 thoughts on “2 reasons why Le’Veon Bell helmet-less TD can never be TD

  1. So basically L. Bell was penalized a touchdown because a Baltimore player made an illegal helmet to helmet hit that wasn’t called, resulting in the helmet coming off? In the name of player safety? It should have been a personal foul resulting in a touchdown! Not a lame players helmet came off- stop the play…even using the players helmet off rule the play should not have ended until Bell hit the ground in the endzone resulting in a touchdown, I.E. you can,t stop a play in midair because of instant replay. Bell was ripped off and suffered physically too.

  2. The problem is it is NOT a H2H hit because the player was not “defenseless” and was within the tackles. (The NFL *really* cares…seriously!)

    In the Titan game i was told Fitzpatrick lost his helmet after throwing the ball. Play was NOT stopped?

    Bell, and any player, should be given credit at least for where he lands when he’s already in the air or falling as it happens.

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