NFL defends Wes Welker hit
Blow to Welker legal, part of game
By Ron Borges | Wednesday, December 3, 2008 | http://www.bostonherald.com
It looked bad and surely it felt worse, but Ryan Clark's explosive hit on Wes Welker on Sunday was neither illegal nor unnecessary. It was a consequence of what pro football is and what Welker has done to opposing teams the past few seasons. Most importantly, it was within the rules.
When the Steelers free safety all but split the tiny wide receiver in half as he ran across the face of Pittsburgh's defense, it felt like you could hear the collision in the stands. It looked even worse on television as a slowing Welker was leveled by a speeding bullet who threw his shoulder into the receiver's body as Matt Cassel's errant pass twisted in the air behind him.
It was gruesome, yet Patriots [team stats] fans and radio talk show hosts who chattered on about how Clark "launched himself" at Welker, leaving his feet and throwing his shoulder illegally, are wrong. They, like Donovan McNabb, do not know the rules.
"A lot of people think it's a foul to leave your feet," NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira said yesterday from New York. "Launching is not a foul. There is nothing in the rulebook that states that at all. It's a misconception people have.
"It is a foul to hit with your helmet against a defenseless receiver. It is a foul to throw a forearm into the neck or head area of your opponent. I don't think either of those things happened. I'm not a fan of those high hits but if you do it with your shoulder you're OK."
Next we come to the fact the ball still was live. It had not hit the ground and it still was in front of Clark. In fact, a teammate to his left, had he reacted quicker, might have intercepted it.
As for Welker being defenseless, he was running across the defense in Clark's direction. If he didn't see him it was because he wasn't looking, and if he wasn't looking it was because he was looking back for the football. What he was doing was slowing up in the middle of a highway, a decision that defies common sense and is one he is not likely to repeat.
As to the hit itself, Pereira was clear (as was the video) Clark made sure to stay within the rules.
"He does actually lead with the shoulder on a high hit up in the area of the neck, but he left the helmet out of the contact," Pereira said. "When you look at it and slow it down it probably was not an illegal hit. You might have to factor in that it was deflected early and does that make it become late. But the actual hit itself is probably OK."
Immediately after the game Clark was unapologetic beyond his concern for Welker's health, saying he believed he had done nothing wrong, which he hadn't. Rodney Harrison [stats] makes the same hit on Marvin Harrison, everyone from Portland to Providence is crowing, "That's Patriot football!" Let the collision be in the other direction and it is dirty football.
No, it was not. It was hardnosed football. It was Steelers football dating back to the 1970s and a safety named Donnie Shell, who had the right name there. When Clark took off like a bullet, at a receiver who has been tormenting safeties like him for two years on just such shallow routes, what he saw was an open receiver and a pass in the air.
As he closed, he purposely turned his head away from making contact with Welker's head and delivered a thunderous blow. Welcome to the NFL.
Clark reminded us that this time a year ago he was in a hospital bed after having had first his spleen and then his gall bladder removed a few weeks after playing in Denver. Clark underwent two serious surgeries and lost a goodly amount of weight off his 5-foot-11, 205-pound frame.
"I was lying in a hospital last year," Clark pointed out. "I'm not trying to hurt anybody. It was not like I was trying to be cheap. Anybody that comes across (the middle) it's my job to tackle them. If I don't do my job I'm going to be out there having to find another way to take care of my family and pay my bills. The ball got tipped but the official said I should not have left my feet."
If that was the call it was incorrect, Pereira points out. Yet even at that, Pereira was not opposed to a mistaken flag being thrown because of the shocking nature of the collision and the need to protect players from the game's obvious violence.
"The actual hit itself is probably OK but the officials are told to err on the side of safety," Pereira said. "That was a tough call to make in real time but we want to lean toward safety. The rule clearly states if you don't lead with your helmet it's not a foul, but we threw the flag and I'm happy we did because I think we need to do it when in real time it looks so tough. It looked like a decleater type hit."
But it wasn't.