Pollard’s penalty causes a fuss and makes a big impact

Early in the third quarter of last night’s game, with the Jaguars in possession and holding a 6-0 lead, Jacksonville quarterback Blaine Gabbert looked for running back Deji Karim over the middle on a third-and-7 play.

Just as Gabbert’s pass got to Karim, so did Bernard Pollard. The Ravens safety blew up Karim, crushing him with a huge hit which knocked the ball to the ground and forced a fourth down.

And then, the flags came in.

Pollard was penalized for a helmet-to-helmet hit on a defenseless receiver, an infraction which extended the Jaguars’ drive, gave them a free 15 yards and eventually led to a field goal which made it a two-possession game.

The problem with the sequence is that there wasn’t actually a foul on the play.

If you look at the clip of the Pollard hit (jump to the 1:35 mark of this video), Pollard’s facemask does graze the facemask of Karim, but it wasn’t a helmet-to-helmet hit. Pollard led with his shoulder - just as players are taught to do - and hit Karim in the chest. It was a perfectly legal blow, and one which players and coaches might describe as textbook under the league’s new rules on hits.

If officials start flagging players anytime there’s any type of inadvertent contact to the helmet whatsoever, we’ll have games with more flags than completed passes.

The response to the Pollard hit on television and social media platforms was resoundingly in the safety’s favor, with some analysts coming down pretty hard on the officials.

“This is a travesty what is going on in the NFL,” former Ravens quarterback and current ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer said after the game on “SportsCenter.” “They are taking one of the most beautiful parts of football, and that is the contact, out of it. ... This is a joke.”

Can’t argue with Dilfer there. I said it last night, and I’ll say it again: Hitting is a part of football. This isn’t two-hand touch that’s being played out there on Sundays and Mondays, it’s full-contact football. Big hits will happen, and when they do, a flag doesn’t automatically have to end up on the ground.

Pollard’s hit was legal, and with the Ravens struggling offensively, it should have given them the ball back still trailing by just six with a chance to take the lead.

Instead, the Jaguars’ drive continued, and six minutes later, Baltimore trailed by two scores.

I’ll be interested to hear what John Harbaugh has to say on the matter later today.

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