The Wild Card hit on Bengals running back Giovani Bernard is now a penalty.
BOCA RATON, Fla. - Call it "The Giovani Interpretation."
One of the most controversial plays in a Wild Card Game fraught with controversy during the Bengals' loss to the Steelers back in January would be reversed, according to league officials here Monday at the NFL owners' meetings.
Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier would now be flagged 15 yards for a crown-of-the-helmet hit on Bengals running back Giovani Bernard.
It's the third play from that game that went against the Bengals in which the league has either admitted fault or changed the interpretation.
It's also the third time since 2006 a rule has been tweaked because of a Bengal getting hurt by a Steelers player.
This one came with less than two minutes left in the third quarter back on Jan.9 at Paul Brown Stadium and the Bengals trailing, 15-0, and facing a third-and-nine from the Steelers 23. Bernard took a short pass from quarterback Andy Dalton in the flat, turned, and immediately got drilled by Shazier when Shazier hit him with the crown of his helmet in his own helmet.
Bernard fumbled, lay motionless for a few minutes, and left the game with a concussion after Shazier recovered at the 25 for a devastating turnover.
The play stood. But not now after NFL Competition Committee co-chairman Rich McKay and NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino revealed the change at Monday's news conference during the first full day of the meetings.
They said Shazier wasn't called for a foul because he didn't "line up," Bernard head on. But from now on, no matter what the angle is outside the tackle box, a defensive player can't use the crown of his helmet.
"If there were angles involved, it wasn't a foul," Blandino said. "We looked at that hit and it's not a technique want in the game. We're changing the interpretation of the rule. For the defensive player, it's not about angles. It's about lowering the head and using the crown of the helmet. Outside the tackle box, that hit will become a foul. Forceful contact, (use of) clear crown regardless of whether there are angles involved.
Many Bengals though the play was already illegal and at least one member of the competition committee (not Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis) said the play should have been flagged when it happened.
In the days following the game the league said that wide receiver Martavis Bryant's between-the-legs touchdown catch shouldn't have been ruled a catch, which would have taken Pittsburgh's only touchdown of the night off the board. Later in the week they also fined Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter $10,000 for being on the field before the last play, a penalty that wasn't called at the time.
In March of 2006, after Steelers defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen's shot on Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer's knee resulted in a torn ACL on the second snap of another Wild Card Game, the Bengals urged more protection for quarterbacks.
In that meeting the league eliminated the wording of that rule that said a rushing defender "who has an unrestricted path to the passer from any direction," so it would read, "a rushing defender is prohibited from forcibly hitting a passer who has one or both feet on the ground ... even if the defender is blocked (or fouled) into the passer and has no opportunity to avoid him."
Lewis said at the time the Palmer hit wouldn't have fallen under the change, but "they may not have been called it, but it will keep people off and that's the intent of the rule . . . Keep people up on their feet."
The league also looked at hits on Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and Tampa Bay's Brian Griese, as well as the hit on Palmer.
In 2008, Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward blindsided Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers with a shot to his head when Ward turned back upfield to block and broke Rivers' jaw. The play was made illegal over that offseason when blockers were barred from making blindside hits to the head and neck area.
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