NFL continues to emphasize safety

Sometimes I just don’t understand people.

They yell and scream that players should be protected from concussions, and rightly so. The league responds by implementing a new rule that was actually used Saturday for the first time during the Week 16 San Francisco-Seattle game, yet some complain the NFL is being too precautionary.

On the other hand, as concussion issues dominated the news this week, the league was sued by 21 former players, alleging severe and permanent brain damage they said was linked to concussions suffered during their careers.

Too precautionary or not doing enough? The NFL can’t seem to win.

This all came to a boiling point a few weeks ago when Browns quarterback Colt McCoy got drilled by a helmet-to-helmet hit by Pittsburgh’s James Harrison. The Browns medical staff didn’t see the hit, but when talking with McCoy on the sidelines afterward, they felt he was OK to go back in the game.

Later, it was revealed McCoy did have a concussion. Following heavy criticism, the NFL instituted a new policy of having an independent certified trainer, paid by the league, to sit in the press box and monitor players during the game for head injuries to help determine what players might need to be tested for concussions.

Fast-forward to Seattle on Saturday, where the 49ers’ Delanie Walker got an inadvertent knee to the head from the Seahawks’ Leroy Hill.

Here was the situation: San Francisco had the ball, first-and-10 at the Seattle 37-yard line with 37 seconds left in the first quarter. Seattle led 7-0.

San Francisco running back Frank Gore carried the ball for no gain. Walker was attempting to block on the play, and Hill’s knee hit him so hard that Walker’s helmet flew off. He also appeared to sustain a cut to the mouth.

This was very likely the first use of the new league-appointed certified trainers. The hit — one that did not involve the runner or the tackler — may not have been seen by the medical people on the sidelines. Since the league announced that medical personnel on the sidelines may use cell phones, the trainer was told to call down and alert the people on the sideline that the contact was severe enough that it may have caused a concussion.

Walker was taken out of the game and a cart was shown taking him to the locker room, after which, I imagine, immediately came a concussion test.

Here’s my point: You can’t say the league is taking too many steps to try to prevent concussions, as many critics have charged — yet players are now suing the league.

You can’t have it both ways. I think the issue of player safety is clearly more important. The NFL not only recognizes that now, but it always has — and it has nothing to do with the lawsuits.

Let’s look at some of the other interesting plays from Sunday.

NY Giants at NY Jets

THE SITUATION: The Jets had the ball, second-and-17 at the Giants’ 33-yard line with 10:33 left in the fourth quarter. The Giants led 20-7.

THE PLAY: Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez was attempting to pass and as he was trying to escape a tackle, he faked a pass and brought his arm back toward his body. In the process, Sanchez was hit by Jason Pierre-Paul and the ball was fumbled and recovered by Justin Tuck. The Jets challenged the fumble ruling, and the play was reversed to an incomplete pass.

MY TAKE: Let’s take a step back in history to the 2001 season during the AFC Divisional game between New England and Oakland, when Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was ruled to have fumbled and the Raiders seemed to be headed to the Super Bowl.

Hello, Tuck Rule.

The replay official initiated a review of the play, and referee Walt Coleman reversed the fumble to an incomplete pass by virtue of the Tuck Rule.

The Tuck Rule states: “When a team A player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his hand starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body. If the player has tucked the ball into his body and then loses possession, it is a fumble.’’

So Coleman was right, and so was referee Pete Morelli in the Giants-Jets game when he reversed the fumble to an incomplete pass.

It’s time to get rid of the Tuck Rule. It makes no sense to anyone.

It is clear that Sanchez was no longer attempting to throw a pass when he tucked the ball back toward his body. The same was true of Brady. It’s a rule that defies logic and must go. The rule was put in because the rules makers didn’t like “cheap” fumbles, whatever that’s supposed to mean.

It’s an offensive game and I understand that, but when 100 percent of the people who view a play think it’s a fumble, it ought to be a fumble.

I had to defend the rule when I worked for the NFL, but I no longer have to. Before I left the league after the 2009 season, I asked the competition committee to review this and change the interpretation. They did review it, but put off any further review for a year. Well, it’s been two years now and nothing has changed.

The only way this rule might get changed is if a team proposes it. That way the owners would have to vote on it. Hello, Oakland? Hello, coach Jackson?

Philadelphia at Dallas

THE SITUATION: Philadelphia had the ball, first-and-9 at the Dallas 9-yard line with 4:47 left in the second quarter. Philadelphia led 7-0.

THE PLAY: Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick completed a 9-yard pass to Jason Avant for a touchdown. As Avant was diving for the end zone, the ball appeared to come loose and went out of the end zone. The replay assistant initiated a scoring review, and the play was reversed to a touchback.

MY TAKE: This was good challenge by Dallas coach Jason Garrett. The ball started coming out of Avant’s hands before he broke the plane. The referee and the replay official had to review two things: the first was the ball coming loose, and the second was whether the ball went out of bounds in the field of play or the end zone.

Since the ball was loose and touched the pylon, the result of the play is a touchback. A loose ball touching the pylon puts the ball out of bounds in the end zone. The reversal gave Dallas the ball at the 20-yard line.

NY Giants at NY Jets

THE SITUATION: The Jets had the ball, fourth-and-10 at the 50-yard line with 2:37 left in the second quarter. The Jets led 7-3.

THE PLAY: T. J. Conley punted the ball 49 yards to the Giants’ 1-yard line. The Jets’ Ellis Lankster kept the ball from going into the end zone, knocking  back into the field of play.

MY TAKE: This play involves the rule of first touching of a kick. According to the rules, “First touching is when a player of the kicking team touches a scrimmage kick that is beyond the line of scrimmage before it has been touched by a player of the receiving team. First touching is a violation and the receivers shall have the option of taking possession of the ball at the spot of first touching, provided no penalty is accepted on the play.’’

On this play, since Lankster first touched the ball at the 1-yard line, the Giants were free to attempt to recover the ball and advance it. Even if the Giants muffed the ball and the Jets recovered, the Giants could always come back to the spot of the illegal touch and take the ball there. So there was very little risk for the Giants.

The officials did a good job of sorting this out and putting the ball at the 1.