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NFL official helps Patriots tackle the new ‘Brady Rule’

By Mike Reiss
Globe Staff / August 6, 2009

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FOXBOROUGH - When Patriots quarterback Tom Brady crashed to the Gillette Stadium turf, his left knee mangled after being struck by Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard in last year’s season opener, there was something noticeably missing.

A penalty flag.

By rule, the NFL determined that referee Carl Cheffers made the correct call by keeping the yellow flag in his grasp. This year, however, that type of play will be an infraction.

Some are calling it the “Tom Brady Rule.’’

The change was highlighted yesterday at Gillette Stadium as referee Terry McAulay visited Patriots training camp, meeting with both the team and media members. McAulay, who worked Super Bowls XXXIX (in which the Patriots beat the Eagles) and XLIII and is one of the NFL’s most respected officials, explained that referees will be ready to unfurl their flags at Pollard-like hits this year.

The alteration reflects the NFL’s continuing emphasis on player safety. In this case, the rule further protects some of the league’s biggest stars - its quarterbacks.

“We’re looking for forcible contact, basically forearm, shoulder, or helmet right into his knee or below,’’ McAulay said. “A normal tackle is rarely a roughing-the-passer foul; it’s that dangerous hit, right at the knee when he lunges, that we’re looking at.

“Obviously, a player thrown into the quarterback or something like that would not be a foul. But that lunge, that forcible contact, anything at the knee or below, we’re going to be pretty tight on.’’

Players will still be allowed to tackle a quarterback at the knees or below. What referees will be looking for is if it’s a “normal tackle’’; a swipe at a quarterback’s legs will be OK, a lunge is not.

The Pollard play was a lunge.

While Patriots running back Sammy Morris made contact with Pollard on the play, the contact didn’t contribute to Pollard lunging.

“Hand-swiping, and [he would] be OK,’’ explained McAulay, who is in his 12th NFL season. “A big aspect is that we want the normal tackle - in any situation, whether he’s coming straight up or he’s going down. Just make a normal tackle on the quarterback and they’re going to be OK.

“Players know how to do that, to reach out and trip up a player. You just can’t lunge into a knee. It’s that lunge, and we’ve seen it for years - crawling to a quarterback and then he makes that final lunge - as opposed to continuing to crawl and swiping.’’

Morris, who had blocked Pollard to the ground before Pollard lunged at Brady, wondered if the rule change would have altered the outcome of the play.

“I don’t know if it would have changed anything,’’ he said. “Maybe it would have changed after the fact, in terms of a penalty or something.’’

McAulay and a few members of his crew are scheduled to be with the team again today. With the Patriots holding their season ticket-holder-only practice inside Gillette Stadium at night (6:30), they figure to spend time on special teams, as it’s beneficial for kickers and punters to work in the stadium.

That will also provide an opportunity for the Patriots to practice the NFL’s new kickoff-return rules, as wedges of more than two players are no longer allowed.

That rule was changed with player safety in mind, too.

“It’s a good opportunity for all of us, players and coaches, to see how we’re doing in terms of playing by the rules and playing with the right techniques we need to play with to be legal,’’ coach Bill Belichick said.

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com.

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