For fans, like many in the UK, who have not grown up with the sport, the NFL Rule Book can be confusing to get to grips with. However, even for some whose job it is to understand the game inside and out, the rules can still be confusing. Take the Wes Welker hit on Aquib Talib during the AFC Championship game last sunday for example.
After the game, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was fuming. Without mentioning anyone by name, but clearly alluding to the Wes Welker hit on Aquib Talib, Belichick took no time in his Monday morning press conference to call out what he described as “one of the worst play’s I’ve seen”.
Belichick was not quizzed about the hit, offering the statement without prompting.
“I went back and watched it, which I didn’t have a chance to yesterday,” Said Belichick to the onlooking media. “It was a deliberate play by the receiver to take out Aqib. No attempt to get open, I’ll let the league handle the discipline on that play, whatever they decide. It’s one of the worst plays I’ve seen. That’s all I’ll say about that.”
Belichick admitted that he had gone back and watched the tape and to the untrained eye, it is easy to see what he means.
Especially to the british fan, more familiar with the premier league, the Wes Welker hit did look excessive. Talib did not have the ball, Welker was not making a play on the ball, and Talib was injured on the play, three things which combined should lead to a penalty in the mind of most.
But this is the NFL, and Belichick has been around long enough to know better.
Wes Welker Hit Legal, Says League.
In any circumstance like this, the league is likely to go back and take a look at the play—The NFL is careful to be seen to be taking player safety very seriously.
In the case of the Wes Welker hit, especially in light of Belichick’s vocal outburst, the league ensured that there would be no controversy at all.
NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino appeared on the NFL Network with a simple message. “It was a legal hit”.
Blandino’s explanation was simple, and to the point.
“The first potential foul would be for offensive pass interference; a receiver can’t block downfield before the ball is touched, so the timing is important,” said Blandino. “The contact occurs, the ball is touched almost simultaneously. We don’t have a foul for pass interference.”
Blandino added “The other thing, is it unnecessary roughness? Under the current rules it isn’t. It’s not late; Talib wasn’t out of the play. Unfortunately there was an injury, so just like in other situations when an injury does occur, the competition committee will take a look at this and determine if there needs to be a change. But under the current rules, this is a legal play.”
It’s an explanation that Belichick shouldn’t have needed though. Belichick is an experienced coach in the league. He understands the rules, he knows how things work, and more importantly, he draws up similar plays himself.
There is clearly animosity between Belichick and Welker, who left New England for the Denver Broncos during the past off-season, however to call the play “one of the worst” Belichick had ever seen shows the depths to which their relationship has sunk.
However, this is what makes the NFL such a great sport for newcomers to understand. Compared to the premier league, where referees do not have to explain their decisions, and the league rarely contradicts its officials, in the NFL every play is explained by the referee as it is called. Video replays are available if the coaches disagree, the down time between plays gives the commentary team plenty of time to explain the call still further, and if after all of this, the call is still controversial and unclear, the league itself takes all the necessary steps to make sure there is no confusion lingering.
So while fans may have been confused at the time, and Belichick may disagree, the rules become clear in the fullness of time, which is always a good thing for us fans.