Let's not kid ourselves here: football is dangerous, and the NFL brand is very dangerous.
But if the NFL really and truly wanted to make it less dangerous, it would get more serious about the rules surrounding headhunting.
Sure, the "targeting" rule gets enforced and 15-yard penalties and fines get handed out.
But all too often, the headhunter gets rewarded even though he's penalized. How's that?
Let's look at the second-quarter play in Oakland yesterday. Raiders tight end Mychal Rivera made a diving catch over the middle and as he went down, Titans safety Michael Griffin roared in and delivered the kind of hit that should be used to illustrate the textbook "targeting" foul: he led with the top of his helmet and drilled a defenseless Rivera in the head.
The blow knocked two things loose: River'a helmet and the ball.
The officials flagged Griffin for the foul, but ruled the pass incomplete. In other words, a 30-yard gain for the Raiders became a 15-yard gain on the penalty. Griffin stayed in the game, the Raiders stayed out of the end zone, and Tennessee went on to win. Not a bad deal, right?
The NCAA is taking some heat for its new anti-headhunting rule, which would have seen Griffin ejected on the spot. "Too harsh," some complain. Indeed, there have been some ejections that didn't hold up well when seen through the lens of replay.
But let me suggest that even the NCAA rule isn't enough. Here's my modest suggestion: when a defensive player commits this kind of foul, give the offense the yardage AND the penalty. It's ridiculous to allow a player to perform an act of mayhem and have his team benefit from it.
You might ask, "But how would the refs know if the player would have held onto the ball?" My answer: doesn't matter. Assume that he would have, give him the yardage, and march off the penalty from there. This would have turned that Raiders pass play into a 45-yard gain instead of the 15 they ended up with.
Same thing on turnovers. In the Broncos-Patriots game, Denver safety Duke Ihenacho earholed Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount. Blount fumbled and Denver recovered. In this case, the refs blew the call: Ihenacho should have been flagged but wasn't. Again, because his team got to keep the ball, the bad guy wins. Under my new rule, the ball stays with the Patriots and the 15-yarder gets tacked on. And Ihenacho watches the rest of the game from the locker room.
This head-injury thing isn't a joke. Until the NFL stops treating it like one, things won't change.