The helmet-to-helmet hit on Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield should have been penalized in last Sunday’s 26-23 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.
According to a report from ESPN’s Pat McManamon, “The NFL recognizes that Jordan Whitehead should have been penalized” for hitting a quarterback who given himself up by initiating a slide or using his helmet to hit another player.
After Mayfield ran for a 35-yard gain, he was hit in the ear hole of the helmet, and initially, a flag was thrown. However, referee Shawn Hochuli picked up the flag saying that once Mayfield left the pocket, he became a ball-carrier, and therefore, it was legal to hit him in the helmet, which drew a strong reaction from the Browns both during and after the game.
“That was disappointing,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said after Monday’s film session. “That is all that I can say.”
Near the midway point of the fourth quarter, the Browns faced a second-and-26 from the Cleveland 24-yard line. Mayfield took the shotgun snap, and when no one was open, he pump-faked a throw to the right to freeze the defense, sprinted up the right hashmarks and across the Buccaneers logo in the middle of the field and gained 35 yards.
At the end of the play, Mayfield appeared to give himself up and initiate a slide that would have given him an added level of protection. However, Whitehead led with his helmet and drilled Mayfield right in the ear hole.
Mayfield took exception to the hit, and after springing up to his feet, got in Whitehead’s face and let him know it was not enough to keep him down.
“There’s a lot of stuff that’s being put on protecting the quarterback,” Mayfield said following the game.
“Doesn’t seem like the Browns are getting a lot of calls. They can review it and say I was a runner, but I started my slide. That’s helmet-to-helmet contact. I felt it, but I got up and let the guy know he’s going to have to hit me a lot harder than that if he wants to affect me.”
Even still, on Monday morning, linebacker Christian Kirksey was among those questioning how Mayfield could be hit in the helmet when any contact above the shoulders to most quarterbacks around the league draws a penalty, regardless of where it occurs on the field.
“I’m sure they’ll be a ruling or a clarification on that call shortly from the league,” Browns center JC Tretter said. “Being an emphasis this year, kind of surprising to pick that one up. In players’ minds, whether a quarterback’s giving himself up sliding or not, you can’t really launch helmet-to-helmet, so I don’t really understand the reasoning of picking it up saying that he was still a runner, because even if he’s a runner, that play’s been pretty much taken out of the game this year.
“I’m sure they’ll be a video or something clarifying that, but again, the chips kind of fall where they may. We have to get back up and get back going, and whether we get the call we think we should get or we don’t, we have to keep the drive moving. So be frustrated for a second, but eventually, you just have to make your own luck at that point.”
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