FOXBOROUGH — Brandon Meriweather earned high praise today from an NFL official for his exemplary behavior on the field after the league enacted stricter rules on helmet-to-helmet hits. Meriweather was fined $50,000 last week for his helmet-to-helmet hits on Ravens’ tight end Todd Heap and wide receiver Derrick Mason.
In Sunday’s 23-20 victory at San Diego, Meriweather came up from behind and leveled Chargers receiver Patrick Crayton with a textbook open-field tackle. Meriweather, though, said yesterday during a paid weekly radio appearance on WEEI that the new rules did not alter his physical approach to the game.
“I just lowered my target zone, that’s all I did,” he said. “I took some much-needed advice from some people I trust. Big V [Vince Wilfork], being one of them. I took some advice from him and Bianca [Wilfork] and talked to Mr. [Robert] Kraft and Bill [Belichick] and everyone told me to just keep playing. Just lower your target zone.”
Ray Anderson, the league’s executive vice president of football operations, lauded the tough play of Meriweather and Steelers’ linebacker James Harrison, who was fined $75,000 last week for his hits on Browns receiver Mohammed Massequoi and running back Joshua Cribbs, saying they “heeded our emphasis” after no flags were thrown for illegal hits to defenseless players in Sunday’s 13 games.
“We like to think we’re off to a good start in terms of the new emphasis and the recognition that we are going to play aggressively, but well within the rules,” Anderson told the Associated Press yesterday. “It’s a good start.”
Anderson singled out Meriweather, specifically, after he made two aggressive hits against the Chargers that were within the rules.
“Last week, we were appropriately calling him out and chastising him,” Anderson said of Meriweather. “[Sunday] in the Patriots’ game at San Diego, Meriweather made two very tenacious, effective and legal hits in similar situations. But you could see it, he lowered the target area, blasted the opponent with his shoulder. He adapted, showing it can be done. It is appropriate to praise him for the tough play.”
When apprised of Anderson’s remarks, Bill Belichick seemed a bit taken aback.
Asked if he ever remembered a league official coming out and praising one of his players, Belichick said, somewhat facetiously, “Nah, it’s got to be a first for me.
“The officials now are evaluating the players and their performance, I mean, that’s great,” Belichick deadpanned. “I can’t say how much that means to me, really.”
Last week, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell issued a league-wide memo and video to all 32 teams, outlining the league’s stricter rules regarding helmet-to-helmet hits. Goodell instructed each head coach to review the memo and show the video to his team. Belichick had not done so last Friday before the team’s departure to San Diego, but he indicated yesterday he had complied with the directive.
“As we have always done here, we know the rules and we try to play within the rules and we try to coach the techniques that are consistent with the rules and the interpretations of the officials,” Belichick said. “We try to do that to the best of our ability, every week, every year, with every player.
“We don’t try to go out there and try and commit penalties and infractions and things like that,” he said. “If they happen, we try to correct them and try to make sure that the player understands what they can and can’t do and what’s legal and what’s a foul and try to coach them in a way where they can do their job without committing a violation.”