Falcons’ Hope plans to appeal $30K fine for hit

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Atlanta Falcons safety Chris Hope said Wednesday that he will appeal the $30,000 fine that the NFL levied against him for an unnecessary roughness penalty he received on Dec. 16 against the New York Giants’ Victor Cruz.

“Oh, yeah,” Hope said of his decision to appeal. “I’m not looking into it right now. Pure focus is on finishing the season strong and making sure we get the big goal. Whether it was $2,500, I would’ve appealed.”

The Falcons (13-2) already have clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs going into Sunday’s season finale at the Georgia Dome against Tampa Bay (6-9), which has been eliminated from postseason play. In his first season in Atlanta, Hope has started the past three games with regular starter William Moore out with a hamstring injury.

Cruz was running a deep post pattern when Hope came all the way across the field and made helmet-to-helmet contact in a violent collision. The hit appeared to be a textbook example of the kind of play that the league wants to eliminate — but it also is the kind of hit that was legal for most of the 32-year-old Hope’s 11 seasons.

Last week, before receiving the fine, Hope acknowledged the difficulty in changing a style of play that is long ingrained.

“Even growing up as a kid, wanting to be like Ronnie Lott and Steve Atwater, John Lynch — some of the guys that made our position so fun to play, you know — you pattern your game after and you get patted on the back for being a big hitter,” Hope said. “You normally get talked about when you get out of a guy’s way, so it’s something you’ve been instilled in since you’ve been a kid and, once I got into the league, it was still that way and maybe a couple years ago that’s when they really started hammering down on the hits like that.

“But it’s almost like you’re already programmed, so, again, I’ve been fortunate enough to not be in that situation for the past three or four years.”

Hope left that Dec. 16 game with a head injury but later returned. He said previously that the injury was not a result of that collision.

Falcons head coach Mike Smith has said earlier this season when another defensive back, Dunta Robinson, missed a few plays in a game after initiating helmet-to-helmet contact that he wants his defensive players to hit their opponents in a “strike zone” similar to that in baseball: from above the knees to the chest.

Hope said last week that he is “not a dirty player,” but he seemed resigned to the fact that the game and the way it is officiated has changed.

“I haven’t got fined for anything like that,” he said, “but I know the rules are the rules and (I’ve) just been fortunate never to have been put in that situation for a while. Just was a natural reaction. I apologized to Cruz during the game. But there was no bad blood.”