Anderson also said the competition committee could consider rules changes in the off-season to ban all hits using the helmet.
On Sunday, violent helmet hits sent linebacker Zack Follett to the hospital on a backboard (he was released Monday) and caused receiver DeSean Jackson to forget the play on which he was injured. linebacker James Harrison knocked two players out of the game with head injuries.
More egregious was the hit by New England safety Brandon Meriweather on Baltimore tight end Todd Heap. Meriweather launched himself into Heap, a clear violation of the rules (Meriweather was penalized). Anderson called that hit “agitating” to him.
“The way football is played, it’s going to be difficult, but it may be necessary,” Anderson said of banning all hits involving the helmet. “All things will be on the table as we evaluate and look at this. It’s critically important. It’s not just a career-threatening situation for a guy like DeSean Jackson. But maybe life-altering.
“Very frankly, we don’t want to see another Darryl Stingley on our watch,” Anderson continued, referring to the wide receiver who was paralyzed by a Jack Tatum hit in a 1978 preseason game and .
The N.F.L. has focused on player safety with increasing urgency in recent years, as study after study has indicated the long-term effects of head injuries. But with so many scary hits in such a short time, opinion seemed to coalesce quickly for the first time Sunday that while the N.F.L.’s intent with the rules change clamping down on such hits was good, its follow-through needed to be stronger than fines to enact a sea change in a generation of players raised on highlight reels glorifying big hits.
Anderson, who sounded agitated Monday morning, said he was struck by comments made Sunday night on ’s pregame show by the former coach and the former safety Rodney Harrison, who called for suspensions for helmet-to-helmet hits. Harrison had a reputation as one of the hardest hitters in the game, and some opponents considered him a dirty player. On Sunday, Harrison said that when he played, fines did not get his attention, but suspensions did.
“They underscored what folks have surmised, and that is, fines don’t do it,” Anderson said. “Fines, in some people’s situations, are just the cost of doing business.”
George Atallah, a spokesman for the players union, said that although the union supported any rules changes that would improve player safety, it was equally concerned about having a fair and transparent process for suspensions and appeals.
John Mara, the Giants’ president and a member of the competition committee, said Monday that an attempt to write rules to eliminate all hits with the helmet might be extreme. Games are played with remarkable speed and ferocity, and each rules change demands that players and coaches modify the way they play.
Running backs like the ’ Adrian Peterson lower their heads to deliver a blow as they are being tackled, and defensive players are taught from Pop Warner days to “explode” into their target. When members of the competition committee meet with current players at the scouting combine each February, players, most of them defenders, say that rules changes are making it impossible for them to do their jobs.
Mara said, “Our response is, we don’t think it’s impossible, and No. 2, if we have a choice between making it impossible to do your job and protecting somebody from a concussion or a serious neck injury, we’ll choose the latter.”
Mara said he, too, was troubled by the series of plays Sunday. He said that a few years ago, it seemed to him that leading with the head was becoming the preferred tackling technique, but that rules against launching at a player seem to have reduced the number. He also cautioned against overreacting, citing predictions that the injuries would increase this season after a spate of injuries in Week 1.
“These are bang-bang plays,” Mara said. “They have a fraction of a second to make a decision. I’m not sure I want to go crazy over what happened yesterday. I want to see at the end of the year. We look at tape of every single one of those hits. Then you have a good understanding of if there is a trend here.
“To me, it would be almost impossible to legislate it completely out of the game.”