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Kiko Alonso’s Hit on Joe Flacco Shows Problems in NFL’s Safety Guidelines

Three thoughts from the Ravens’ blowout of the Dolphins, including the hit that left the Baltimore quarterback concussed and kicked off a chippy night of football

Three thoughts from the Ravens’ 40-0 win over the Dolphins on Thursday Night Football...

1. The hit everyone is talking about. The bewildered look on Joe Flacco’s face, even a full minute after Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso blasted the Ravens quarterback in the head with a hard right shoulder, stayed with anyone watching Thursday night’s Dolphins-Ravens game.

The aftermath was about 45 seconds of chaos. Flacco wobbling to the sideline and eventually into concussion protocol, eyes wide open and mouth agape. Alonso getting pummeled to the ground by 320-pound offensive lineman Ryan Jensen and having his helmet forcibly removed by a hard right-handed swing. Ndamukong Suh knocking Jensen to the turf in retribution. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh screaming at Alonso. And yet Flacco was the only player who had to leave the game.

It all started when Flacco, who was eventually ruled out with a concussion and an ear laceration that required stitches, wheeled out of the pocket on a third-and-10 at the Miami 20-yard line. As he was sliding to the ground, Alonso closed in hard from midfield and seemed to hammer his right shoulder toward the ground. His pads clipped Flacco’s helmet, spun it off his head and ignited a micro-Royal Rumble with about three minutes to go until halftime.

Officials scrambled to get the scene under control, but missed the opportunity to restore order to a game that only got uglier as the night wore on. Kicking Alonso off the field seemed like the obvious choice, but this is what happens when gut instincts are pinballed through a thousand different qualifiers.

Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso was penalized for unnecessary roughness but not kicked out of the game for this hit on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.

Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso was penalized for unnecessary roughness but not kicked out of the game for this hit on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.

The NFL’s operations manual on sliding players reads as follows:

(1) Defenders are required to treat a sliding runner as they would a runner who is down by contact.

(2) A defender must pull up when a runner begins a feet-first slide. This does not mean that all contact by a defender is illegal. If a defender has already committed himself, and the contact is unavoidable, it is not a foul unless the defender makes forcible contact into the head or neck area of the runner with the helmet, shoulder, or forearm, or commits some other act that is unnecessary roughness.

(3) A runner who desires to take advantage of this protection is responsible for starting his slide before contact by a defensive player is imminent; if he does not, and waits until the last moment to begin his slide, he puts himself in jeopardy of being contacted.

It also gives officials grounds to eject a player if they deem a player defenseless on the ground and a hit overtly flagrant.

At halftime, the CBS broadcast showed a bird’s eye view of the play and how close Flacco was to the first-down marker (about two yards) when he started an awkward slide. At that moment, Alonso already seems to be leaning off one foot and barreling toward Flacco.

Does that mean Alonso was right? The moment represented a microcosm of one central issue facing NFL officiating crews this season: How far should they be willing to go in order to protect the game’s lifeblood (quarterbacks) against the backdrop of an Infinite Jest-sized rule book that seems to have a rigid guideline for everything? Alonso certainly will receive his punishment this week, but will it be considered too late?

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2. That was not the end of the scrums. With 6:50 to go in the fourth quarter, another scuffle broke out resulting in two personal fouls on the Dolphins defense. The slow motion image of Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh grabbing Ryan Mallett by the throat will be another lowlight for the league’s officiating crew to stew over Friday morning. Suh chipped Mallett in the backfield well after a handoff, which prompted the Ravens quarterback to get in Suh’s face. Almost instantly, Suh raised his left hand, wrapped it around Mallett’s neck and shoved him forward. All this happened, by the way, while Ravens offensive lineman Austin Howard was battling Dolphins defensive end William Hayes.

This is what losing control of a game looks like from an official’s perspective. I think Tony Romo spoke for many of us while watching the replay against the sound of booing in Baltimore: “Looks like we’re going to actually snap this ball and finish this game, so I can go home.”  

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3. So much for Matt Moore yanking Jay Cutler’s starting job from underneath him. Cutler (cracked ribs) was in street clothes for Thursday’s farce and will be back under center as soon as he’s deemed healthy enough to play. Miraculously, the Dolphins (4-3) still have a winning record and could finish the weekend tied for second place in the AFC East behind the Patriots. But the bottom line was ugly. Before the game, the Miami Herald reported that it would take a "Marino-like" performance for Cutler to lose the starting job. Moore threw two interceptions returned for touchdowns. Miami gained fewer than 200 total yards and punted eight times in 28 minutes of possession. Your job is waiting for you, Jay.

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