BEREA: After Browns strong safety T.J. Ward held court in the locker room Wednesday for about 15 minutes, he told a member of the team’s media-relations staff that he couldn’t resist the urge to get his feelings off his chest.
He wasn’t kidding, either.
The NFL fined Ward $25,000 for his hit Sunday on Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Kevin Ogletree with 57 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of the Browns’ 23-20 overtime loss. Ward will appeal the fine, and he didn’t hold back while explaining why he believes it’s an injustice.
“I think it was completely legal,” Ward said. “I aimed for his chest, I hit him in his chest, he was falling forward. No part of my helmet hit his helmet. No part of my shoulder pad hit his helmet. If it did at any part, it was probably the aftereffect or the end of the hit. But I think it was just a blown call and a blown punishment by me getting fined.”
On second-and-6 at the Cowboys’ 24-yard line, Ward received a 15-yard, unnecessary-roughness penalty for the hit, which occurred during the drive on which the Cowboys tied the score with two seconds remaining and forced overtime on Dan Bailey’s 32-yard field goal. As Ogletree tried to catch a pass from quarterback Tony Romo, Ward smashed into him.
Ogletree and Browns cornerback Buster Skrine suffered concussions as a result of the play. They had a helmet-to-helmet collision a split-second after Ward knocked Ogletree back with his blow. Ogletree has been ruled out for the Cowboys’ game today against the Washington Redskins. Skrine did not practice Wednesday and is “working through the process” of being medically cleared to return, coach Pat Shurmur said.
In 2010, Ward was fined $15,000 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Jordan Shipley. He conceded that fine was legitimate, but he doesn’t believe the most recent one is fair by a long shot.
“It’s ridiculous,” Ward said. “I could see if I came under him, like the Shipley hit, you can take that for example. By the rules, I deserved that fine or whatever. I hit him under his helmet, under his face mask. This one, not at all. I hit him in his chest. Freeze frame, you can see the pictures and everything, it’s in his chest. My head is completely to the side. It’s almost like he’s over my shoulder.”
Replays show the bulk of the contact came from Ward’s right shoulder smacking into Ogletree’s chest. Then as Ward rose and Ogletree dipped, Ward’s right shoulder pad appeared to clip Ogletree’s chin and the bottom of his face mask. The right side of Ward’s helmet also appeared to glance the right side of Ogletree’s helmet. In his explanation of the penalty, referee Ed Hochuli said a defender is not permitted to hit a defenseless receiver in the helmet with a forearm or shoulder.
“It’s really not my fault he was falling as I went to hit him,” said Ward, who was also penalized Nov. 4 for hitting quarterback Joe Flacco high during the Baltimore Ravens’ game-winning drive. “I aimed at a certain spot, and he continued to fall. He fell right into me. It was almost a protection of myself. I just turned my shoulder. I didn’t really even explode into him.”
Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said he wouldn’t tell Ward to change his style as a result of the penalty.
“I think [he should] just keep doing what he’s doing,” Jauron said. “I saw the replays multiple times, and I didn’t see any head-to-head contact on that play. I don’t know if anybody else did. I don’t know what you tell him. They have to figure it out. I don’t know what you tell a defensive player today.
“All we tell our entire defense is don’t ever intentionally hit another player in the head or the neck. Don’t hit the quarterback intentionally in the knees in the pocket. Other than that, you’ve just got to play because there’s no way that you can make an adjustment in a split-second where the offensive player ducks his head or dips his shoulder or turns or twists or whatever they’re going to do. The quarterbacks throw them into tough spots. Maybe they should stop the quarterback from throwing the ball in those tough spots. Put some of the onus on the offense occasionally.”
Cornerback Dimitri Patterson said the punishment of a $25,000 fine doesn’t fit the crime. Ward’s base salary this season is $540,000.
“It’s just unacceptable,” Patterson said. “That’s too much money because everybody’s not on the same pay grade. If that was Ed Reed or any safety that’s making a substantial amount of money, they won’t like it, but they won’t be as affected as a guy that’s still on his rookie contract, which T.J. Ward is. There has to be some type of fairness with these fines, especially when it’s not intentional. That was clearly not intentional. He didn’t lean forward. It was a clean hit. I think his target was clean.”
Ward believes the NFL is cracking down on defensive players more than ever. In a high-profile example, the league suspended Reed, the eight-time Pro Bowl free safety of the Ravens, for one game Monday for his third illegal hit against a defenseless player in three seasons. The league then reduced the punishment Tuesday to a $50,000 fine.
“The funny thing is, it won’t change it,” Ward said. “Things are going to happen. The next thing is you’re going to see guys with blown-out knees because they’re going to start to get hit low. And before you know it, that’s going to be illegal, and we’ll start getting fined for that. You can’t hit quarterbacks below the knee. I think it’s taking away from the game. I understand the helmets under the chins and trying to take somebody’s helmet off if you came in under the chin. But if I hit you in the chest and your face mask gets touched this much … ”
Ward held his index finger and thumb together as his sentence trailed off. Then he shook his head, finally speechless after letting it all out.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com.browns.abj.