New England Patriots defensive back Brandon Meriweather said Monday his helmet-to-helmet hit on Baltimore Ravens tight end Todd Heap on Sunday was not intentional and that the punishment coming from the NFL won't alter his aggressive approach to the game.
"I'm going to be aggressive, point blank," Meriweather said during his weekly interview on Boston sports radio station WEEI. "I won't change my game, period. I'm sorry it happened. Heap is actually a real good friend of mine. I talked to him yesterday and let him know it wasn't intentional and he told me he understood."
Meriweather was flagged for a second-quarter hit on Heap, who lay on the field being attended to by Ravens medical personnel for several minutes before getting up under his own power. Heap was leaping for a Joe Flacco pass that had sailed over his head when Meriweather thrust himself, helmet-first, into the Ravens' tight end.
After a weekend full of dangerous hits, the NFL announced Tuesday that it will immediately begin suspending players for dangerous and flagrant hits that violate rules, particularly those involving helmets.
Suspensions will be in place for this weekend's games and could be handed out for hits that took place last Sunday, vice president of football operations Ray Anderson said Tuesday.
On Tuesday morning before the NFL's announcement, Anderson told ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike in the Morning": "We've got to get the message to players that these devastating hits and head shots will be met with a very necessary higher standard of accountability. We have to dispel the notion that you get one free pass in these egregious or flagrant shots."
In the past, players were either fined or ejected for illegal hits. But after the series of recent flagrant tackles, several of which resulted in concussions, the NFL ramped up the punishment "for egregious and elevated hits," Anderson said.
On Meriweather's hit in particular, Anderson said: "That, in our view, is something that was flagrant, it was egregious and effective immediately that's going to be looked at a very aggressive level which could include suspension without pay."
Meriweather said he went for the hit because he thought Heap was going to come down with the pass.
"We ran that play a thousand times at practice," Meriweather said. "Every time at practice I broke on the ball and the tight end caught it every time. I thought it was going to be overthrown but the tight end always seemed to go and get it. Instead of me waiting for the ball to see if it was going to be overthrown I just attacked. I wasn't trying for head-to-head contact, or trying to injure anybody, or play dirty in any kind of way. It just happened."
Meriweather, who said he has not yet heard from the NFL, agreed with the notion introduced by the WEEI radio host that had he stayed back on the play he could have intercepted the pass.
"You always have to make a split-second decision and my split-second decision was to be aggressive and not wait for it," Meriweather said.
Even if you try to avoid helmet-to-helmet hits, Meriweather explained, sometimes they are not preventable.
"You never know what someone is gong to do," Meriweather said. "You can try to go with your shoulder, but what if they move the same way you move, then it's still going to be head to head. There's a million different ways you can get head-to-head contact. You just gotta play aggressive. When things happen like that you just pray that nobody gets hurt."
Anderson isn't buying that explanation. He said that players should be able to adjust their technique to the rules and avoid illegal hits.
The defender, Anderson said, "has to adjust his target area. He has to wrap up. He has to do things more fundamentally."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick weighed in on the issue during his weekly appearance on WEEI's "The Big Show."
"If those plays are illegal, then you can't do it. That's what the rule is and we have to play about the rules," Belichick said. "We coach that, and the players understand it. It's a split-second decision. It's no different than hitting the quarterback below the knees or above the shoulders, but again, it's the responsibility of the defender or the pass-rusher to make that contact in a legal manner, so we have to do it.
"You keep the aggressiveness. It's technique. You can't hit him above the shoulders, you can't lead with your head, you can't launch, and you've got to make contact in a legal manner. You can be aggressive, you just have to do it legally."
Regarding whether a player should be suspended for such a penalty, Belichick said he thinks the league should review the ruling after the season, not during it. "I don't really like the 'make it up as you go along' [logic]," he said.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.