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NFL may get tougher on helmet-to-helmet hits

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison (92) hits Cleveland

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison (92) hits Cleveland Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi (11) on an attempted pass in the second quarter. (Oct. 17, 2010) Credit: AP

Kevin Boss was on the sideline when he glanced up at the scoreboard and saw an out-of-town update that showed the violent collision between Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson and Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson.

"I turned my head the second time," the Giants tight end said of the replay. "I didn't want to see it again. Something needs to be done. It's getting kind of out of hand."

The NFL apparently agrees. After an unusually high number of helmet-to-helmet collisions Sunday, including two by Steelers linebacker James Harrison that sidelined two Browns, vice president of operations Ray Anderson said Monday that the league soon could start ejecting or suspending players for those dangerous hits.

"Certain hits that occurred will be more susceptible to suspension,'' Anderson told The Associated Press. "Some could bring suspensions for flagrant and egregious situations."

That's fine with Tom Coughlin. The Giants' coach said he agreed with NBC analyst Rodney Harrison's assertion that fines do not keep players from making those types of hits.

"Since the money does not seem to be a deterrent, then it has to be more than that," Coughlin said. "It is quite frustrating if a player is forced to leave a game because of an illegal hit and the other player continues. That doesn't really seem right. I'm sure there will be stronger measures taken."

Immediate ejections could cause problems, however. Jets safety Jim Leonhard was penalized Sunday, but replays showed he made a clean, physical hit on the Broncos' Brandon Lloyd.

"In some situations, it's semi-unavoidable," Leonhard said. "Those heads move, you know. Even when you're hitting with your shoulder, you don't always hit where you intended to. Safety needs to be the number one issue, but you have officials [making] split-second calls. On mine, I might get kicked out of a game for a hit that wasn't illegal.''

Not everyone has put as much thought into it as Leonhard.

"I don't want to see anyone injured," James Harrison said Sunday, "but I'm not opposed to hurting anyone."

Giants safety Antrel Rolle, who has been fined in the past, lamented his play on a long pass to Calvin Johnson on Sunday when he eased up and allowed an 87-yard touchdown. "When in doubt,'' Rolle said, "I just have to go for the kill shot."

"A lot of the increase is from hits to blow guys up," Anderson said. "We are concerned they are getting away from the fundamentals of tackling, and maybe it has been coached that way.''

Robinson and Jackson suffered concussions, and Jackson can't remember the hit. Both are unlikely to play Sunday, either for medical reasons or, in Robinson's case, as punishment.

Eliminating helmet-to-helmet hits to try to make the game safer is noble. But while Boss, on the receiving end of several of those plays, winced and looked away from the video of the players' heads colliding, many at New Meadowlands Stadium seeing the same images cheered. The bloodlust of NFL fans runs deep.

"They definitely like the big hits, and guys want to make those big hits so they can be put on SportsCenter's Top 10 and whatnot," Boss said. "It's hard to decide what's best."

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