Week 4: Bears at Packers
Danny Trevathan’s hit may have made the highlight reel, but it has surely made another dubious reel: the officiating department’s clip-and-save file.
In the third quarter of a rain-soaked and weather-delayed Thursday night game, Packers receiver Davante Adams caught a short pass on a third-and-goal from the 16. He was held up around the 7 when Trevathan, the Bears linebacker, levels Adams with an audible crack. Adams slumped to the turf and was eventually taken off the field on a stretcher.
Referee John Hussey was trailing the play and dropped a flag straight down at the spot. Curiously, none of the wing officials threw a flag, and Hussey is seen gathering side judge Allen Baynes and back judge Keith Ferguson for a conference.
Trevathan was assessed an unnecessary roughness foul, but was allowed to stay in the game. Very rarely do players get ejected for hits that are a part of the play, but this season there is a new emphasis on “egregious hits.” Executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent advanced that adjective to describe the types of actions that are ejectable and suspendable, but, of course, it is subject to interpretation. This seemed to be one of those situations, but since Hussey was trailing the play, he did not get a full look at the beeline that Travathan took. “Was it egregious? Was it completely unnecessary?” Hussey told a pool reporter after the game. “I didn’t have enough information from my perspective to make that [call].”
Suspensions are also rare, but with the new emphasis, players can be benched on a first offense. In a preseason video to the players, Vincent said that when there is an “opportunity to take a shot … it is up to you to pass it up.”
Travathan’s hit is illegal on two counts, although it looks like Hussey focused on one illegality in the call.
Since Adams was ensnared by a Bears defender, Adams does not have the ability to avoid or brace for contact to the head or neck area. This is why a player in this posture is defined in the rules as “defenseless,” under Rule 12-2-7(a)(5), “a runner already in the grasp of a tackler and whose forward progress has been stopped.” Adams didn’t have his forward progress stopped long enough to warrant a whistle, because he still had control of his feet at that point, and potentially could break the tackle. But the lack of a whistle doesn’t change his status as defenseless. A defenseless player may be hit, just not by a forcible blow to the head or neck area.
The second category is a crown hit, which was called twice in 2013 — the rule’s first season — and not since, according to Fox rules analyst Mike Pereira. This necessitates a forcible blow delivered to any player by lowering the helmet and using the crown or hairline (unless both players are in the tackle box, which did not apply here). Previously, this involved a player aligning with the opponent to deliver the blow, which speaks to the degree of flagrancy the officiating department was looking for. That provision no longer applies, but a hit delivered by zeroing in from a distance and becoming a battering ram definitely is a consideration for such a call.
Because a crown hit involves some pre-hit conditions to be met, it is not often not called, and likely was not seen by Hussey because he had transitioned off of watching the quarterback after the pass. Mechanically speaking, two or three officials will come together to make a crown-hit call.
The league doesn’t have the same criteria as a targeting call in the college game, and the Competition Committee has taken a hard stance against adding penalty reviews to the replay functions, other than 12 men on the field.
These types of hits are subject to a C-suite meeting early in the morning at the league’s Park Avenue headquarters in Manhattan. If it happens on a Sunday, the determination of a suspension is decided by Monday evening so a team is prepared for the upcoming week; it is possible that a decision can wait until then. This would be the second test case of what threshold is applied to an egregious hit. It very easily could have been ejectable on Thursday, and it would seem likely to be suspendable for the upcoming week.
Interview with referee John Hussey
Hussey spoke to a pool reporter briefly after the game, and the official transcript only referred to the topic of the question.
Q: [On what was seen on the hit by Trevathan on Adams]
Hussey: The runner’s progress — he caught the ball and became a runner — his progress was stopped. He was being stood up. That’s when 59 [Trevathan] came in, and what I felt was 59 came in and hit a defenseless player in the helmet area unneccessarily.
Q: [Why wasn’t he ejected?]
Hussey: From my perspective, I just didn’t see enough to have it rise to that level.
Q: [Is it clear what warrants an ejection or judgment call?]
Hussey: That issue I would say is a judgment call. Was it egregious? Was it completely unneccesary? I didn’t have enough information from my perspective to make that.