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Contrite Meriweather looks ahead, not back

Brandon Meriweather, $50,000 poorer these days, vows to tackle “the proper way,’’ as players are instructed in practice. Brandon Meriweather, $50,000 poorer these days, vows to tackle “the proper way,’’ as players are instructed in practice. (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)
By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / October 21, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather met briefly with media members yesterday, apologizing for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Baltimore tight end Todd Heap and adding that he just wants the issue to go away.

“To start off, I want to say once again, I’m going to say I’m sorry for the hit. I understand the league is trying to protect the health of all our players but . . .,’’ he trailed off, sighing and appearing to fight back tears. “I don’t even know how to put it, but to be honest, I just want all of this to go away.

“I want to focus, with the rest of my team, on the Chargers, really not let this come up again. I’m going to try my best to play within the rules, like my coach had always taught us.

“Even in training camp, we have always been taught the proper way to hit, and I’m just going to focus on that and put it in my game in some way, shape, form, or fashion. And from here on, I’m focusing on the Chargers, and anything else spoken on this, I will not comment on.’’

He did not want to answer any questions about Sunday’s hits. Meriweather was fined $50,000 by the NFL for his hit on Heap plus a third-quarter hit on receiver Derrick Mason.

The same day, he received a phone call from his mentor and former teammate, Rodney Harrison.

On Sirius NFL radio yesterday, Harrison said, “I asked Brandon point-blank: If the NFL fines you a great deal of money or they suspend you, will this change the way you play? And he said, ‘Absolutely.’ ’’

Meriweather has a great deal of respect for Harrison, and the retired safety, now an analyst on NBC’s “Football Night in America,’’ took time to remind Meriweather of his own career and how his reputation as a dirty player is affecting his legacy.

“Brandon Meriweather is not a dirty player,’’ Harrison said. “He’s a guy that plays hard, and I told him specifically, ‘Brandon, I’m calling you today because I don’t want you to make the same mistake that I did, hitting guys and being known as a dirty player and having that reputation.’

“I made only two Pro Bowls — and I compare my career up to all the best safeties — I made two Pro Bowls because everyone considered me a dirty player and didn’t appreciate what I actually did on the field. I said, ‘You’re a hard-hitting guy, you’re a playmaker, I don’t want you to fall into that trap that I fell into.’ So I told him, ‘Listen Brandon, take this, take your medicine, and come back and play.’

“He said, ‘Rodney, I will lower my hitting area; I will have to lower my hitting area.’ ’’

Harrison was consistently voted one of the league’s dirtiest players by his peers, and his lack of Pro Bowl selections despite his accolades (two Super Bowl rings, only player in league history with at least 50 sacks and 50 interceptions) is pointed to by Hall of Fame voters as one reason he may not gain election. There is also a backlog of safeties who have yet to be elected.

Meriweather’s actions weren’t the only ones that drew attention in Sunday’s games. While many league observers considered Meriweather’s strike on Heap as the most egregious — Heap missed practice yesterday with what the team termed a neck injury — it was just one of several cringe-inducing hits.

Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison knocked two Browns players out of the game with blows to the helmet: Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi. As a repeat offender (he was fined for unnecessary roughness last month), Harrison was docked $75,000. The NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2008, Harrison was excused from practice yesterday by coach Mike Tomlin and said he is contemplating retirement over concerns that he won’t be able to adjust his game and still be effective.

Atlanta cornerback Dunta Robinson also was fined $50,000, though his hit on the Eagles’ DeSean Jackson, which knocked both players out of the game with concussions, has been called legal by many current and former players. Robinson has said he will appeal the fine.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement to all 32 teams yesterday emphasizing that player safety is of utmost importance and that players found to play outside of the rules — even first-time offenders — will face increased discipline, including suspension.

Goodell’s memo also put responsibility on coaches, as he wrote, “Coaches are expected to teach playing within the rules. Failure to do so will subject both the coach and employing club to discipline.’’

Further, he wrote, game officials “have been directed to emphasize protecting players from illegal and dangerous hits, and particularly hits to the head and neck. In appropriate cases, they have the authority to eject players from a game.’’

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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