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Patriots, rest of NFL have work to do when it comes to learning new helmet rule

Ryan Hannable
August 18, 2018 - 7:51 am

In the Patriots’ first preseason game against the Redskins, there were no flags thrown for the new illegal use of the helmet rule. That changed Thursday against the Eagles when there were four such penalties called, but just one against the Patriots.

The new rule is very controversial around the league since it’s unclear exactly how it should be called. NFL referees have been told to throw the flag if there’s any doubt during the preseason and then the crews can review plays during the weeks ahead and decide whether or not it was the right call. The hope is this will make things right come the regular season. 

The Eagles defenders didn’t like how it was called Thursday night. 

“It is my understanding that it was more so for leading with the crown of your head and more helmet to helmet,” Rodney McLeod told reporters. “It felt like on that play, I didn’t do either. I went low and led with my shoulder, and [James White] saw me coming and he obviously tried to get lower himself.

“They made the call, and I asked the referee why he called it. He said any type of movement where you do lower your head during the preseason, they are going to call it. I am hoping when the first game comes about that a routine tackle like that doesn’t get called.” 

The lone Patriots illegal use of the helmet foul was committed by Jordan Richards, which looked like a clean hit live.

Speaking on a conference call Friday, Bill Belichick indicated his staff and players need to make sure they have a good idea of how the play will be called before things count in the regular season.

“We’re just going to have to try and do a good job of getting a clear understanding, and these are plays that help define what it is and what isn’t allowed,” Belichick said. “It doesn’t really matter what we think. What matters is what the officials think and what they see and what they’re going to call. We’ll have to adjust to the way the game is being called, not the other way around. 

“We’ll examine those plays and ask about some other ones that are similar and try to do as good a job of teaching that rule as we can. I’m sure the players will do as good a job of playing it as they can. No player wants to get a 15-yard penalty, so we might have to adjust our style or technique a little bit as we go here.”

There’s no question there have been a large number of flags thrown for these plays in the first few weeks of the preseason, and mostly everyone is in agreement hopefully that changes come the regular season.

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