Dirty Laundry: Three plays at Soldier Field

November, 16, 2011
11/16/11
5:45
PM ET
As we await possible fines and potential suspensions from Sunday's chippy game at Soldier Field, public discussion has centered mostly around three plays -- none of which directly drew a penalty flag. Let's look at each play.

The first came at the end of the game's opening possession. On a second down from the Detroit Lions' 48-yard line, Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers upended Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, forcing a fumble.

Lions coach Jim Schwartz said this week that the play was a "clothes line right in the neck area." He added: "Technically, that's a penalty." Schwartz wasn't lobbying for a review but was using the play as an example of instances where the Lions don't complain about hard hits against them.

NFL rule 12, Section 2, Article 1(c) says that all players are prohibited from "striking, swinging, or clubbing to the head, neck, or face with the heel, back, or side of the hand, wrist, arm, elbow, or clasped hands."

Watching the replay, you see Johnson was holding the ball high on his chest with his left arm. Peppers hit Johnson's upper chest with his right arm, possibly grazing his face mask, but not contacting the neck area. I would be surprised if the NFL fines Peppers for that play.

In the second quarter, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler scrambled 10 yards to the right sideline before launching into a slide. Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, pursuing hard from behind, collided with Cutler as both players fell to the ground. In the process, Cutler's helmet wound up in the hands of Suh and eventually on the Bears' bench.

NFL rule 12, Section 2, Article 8(h) requires unnecessary roughness to be called on "any player who grabs a helmet opening of an opponent and forcibly twists, turns, or pulls his head."

Suh said earlier this week that the play was part of football. Here's how Schwartz defended it: "[Cutler] sees the defender, he goes down and Ndamukong is [there] and [Cutler] ducks right into it."

You can verify Schwartz's read of the play by watching the replay. It's what happens after Cutler "ducks right into it" that will at least draw a second look from the NFL. During the collision, Suh's left hand wound up grasping the bottom of Cutler's helmet. That's the action that forced the helmet off.

Remember, the rule states that a player can't "grab a helmet opening" and "forcibly" twist or pull the head. It will be up to the NFL to determine if Suh pulled off the helmet (forcibly) or if it came off as a result of the incidental collision.

The same rule applies to our third instance, the now-infamous toss of Bears cornerback D.J. Moore by Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. The replay shows Stafford grabbing Moore near the bottom of his helmet and swinging him to the ground.

The incident occurred away from the play and it's doubtful that any official saw it until Moore got up and charged after Stafford. Again, the NFL will have to determine whether Stafford had Moore by the helmet, an illegal play, or if he grabbed his shoulders. The replay I saw wasn't conclusive.

Long story short: We'll find out for sure later this week. At least now we know what rules the NFL will be considering. The league will also be applying a fine schedule that starts at $25,000 for fighting and can include suspensions based on severity. Leaving the bench during a fight is at least a $2,500 fine.

Now, on to our Penalty Tracker.

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