By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: The damage is already done.
But if it’s any consolation for the Browns, the NFL formally acknowledged that officials missed a call on what should have been a roughing-the-passer penalty when Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay used his left hand to whack quarterback Jason Campbell in the facemask Sunday.
The NFL fined Gay $15,750 on Friday for unnecessarily delivering a forcible blow to Campbell’s head and neck area. The hit caused Campbell to fumble and smack the back of his helmet on the ground, forcing him to leave the game with a concussion with 7:46 remaining in the third quarter. Safety Will Allen returned the fumble 49 yards to the Browns’ 4-yard line. The Steelers scored a touchdown one play later to go ahead 20-3 with 7:43 left in the third quarter.
If referee Terry McAulay had made the right call, Campbell’s fumble would have been negated, and the Browns would have been granted 15 yards and a first down at the Steelers’ 24 while trailing 13-3. Even if the Browns had settled for a field goal, they would have cut their deficit to a touchdown.
Instead, the turnover virtually ensured their playoff hopes would be dashed with what became a 27-11 loss to the Steelers. The Browns (4-7) ruled Campbell out for Sunday, and Brandon Weeden will start in his place against the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9) at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Campbell hasn’t practiced since suffering the injury, though coach Rob Chudzinski said Friday, “He’s very close [to returning] and getting much better.”
With the NFL emphasizing concussion prevention, the league has made it a priority to limit hits to the helmets of quarterbacks and defenseless receivers. Still, such plays are not subject to replay review under league rules.
“I thought [Campbell] got hit in the facemask right from the beginning and then obviously you see the replay, and it’s really easy to see from all the angles except the one that the referee had — he’s standing behind,” Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner said Friday. “You’d just like someone to come in and help him make that call. The way it’s being emphasized by the league, it should never be missed. And the ones that they’ve made mistakes on is where they’ve gone too far. So this one obviously they didn’t go far enough.”
Chudzinski said he discussed Gay’s hit with the officials because he thought it should’ve drawn a flag. But Chudzinski said they told him that Campbell had been hit in the shoulder, not the head. Replays from the CBS telecast showed evidence to the contrary.
Although scoring plays and turnovers are automatically reviewed, coaches are not even permitted to challenge hits to the helmet. So even though Turner saw Campbell take a shot to the facemask from the coaches booth in the press box and Chudzinski argued with the officials on the field, the Browns were powerless.
Said Turner: “Right now, if you’re talking about the emphasis they’re making on it and the way people are getting fined, it would be something I would think they would look at and consider the possibility of reviewing that.”
When asked Monday if such plays should be reviewable, Chudzinski took a different stance than Turner.
“I think you open up all of the things in terms of penalties being reviewed,” said Chudzinski, who submitted the play to the league for clarification. “You open that whole can of worms, so I don’t know that that’s necessarily a thing that you should do on that.”
Referee Ed Hochuli worked at the Browns’ training camp for a few days this past summer and met with reporters to discuss rules. During the interview, he said officials miss illegal hits to the helmet, but he doesn’t believe making them reviewable is feasible.
“The trouble with making that a reviewable call for replay is there’s still a certain amount of judgment involved and replay is designed to fix things in which there is no judgment,” Hochuli said. “It’s clear — he stepped out of bounds or he did not step out of bounds. There is some judgment involved in [hits to the helmet], so I kind of doubt that replay will go there in the near future.”
Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas is among the players who believe the rules need to be revised so such plays can be reviewed.
“I know there’s two officials that sit in the booth and are watching the game, and it would be nice to have them be able to review those type of plays,” Thomas said. “They’re turning out to be as big of a momentum swing, as big of a play in the game, as a turnover or a touchdown and those are automatic because the NFL has said those plays are so important that we need to automatically review them. But a potential 15-yard penalty or a fumble returned for almost a touchdown, that’s a humongous play in the game.”
On Nov. 17, San Francisco 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks received a controversial penalty for using his right arm to hit New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees in the neck. The penalty nullified a fumble by Brees and allowed the Saints to tie the score with a field goal. The Saints went on to prevail, and the league fined Brooks $16,000.
“I looked two weeks ago at the play where Ahmad Brooks tackles Drew Brees and whether the NFL comes out says that’s the right call or not, you would still like to have them at least look at it and have the option to buzz down to the ref and say, ‘You missed it,’ or, ‘You got it wrong, and it should have been a penalty,’ ” Thomas said. “Those plays are happening so quickly, especially the helmet to the head area on receivers and stuff. Those plays are happening so fast, and it’s almost impossible to tell where the receiver’s getting hit because if he’s getting hit in the body or the shoulder, his head is going to snap the same way. The difference between a penalty and not a penalty is so small, and yet it’s such a big play in the game.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.