Jacksonville Jaguars defensive lineman Malik Jackson was flagged for a 15-yard penalty — “lowering the helmet” to initiate contact — for his hit on Tennessee Titans quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert was immediately taken to the locker room and evaluated for a concussion.
Here's the hit that knocked out Blaine Gabbert. Jacksonville was called for a "lowering the helmet" penalty, giving the Titans 15 yards and putting them in field goal range. #TENvsJAX pic.twitter.com/rDboWt0SFI— Titans Film Room (@titansfilmroom) September 23, 2018
At the time, the score was 0-0 and even though it was just the second possession for the Titans you knew the game was going to be one of those “first to seven points wins” afternoons. Gabbert immediately fumbled after a hit by Calais Campbell, the ball was recovered by Dante Fowler, and momentum was swinging in the Jaguars’ favor.
But the penalty not only negated a sack and a fumble recovery, but gave the Titans the ball in field goal range. They went on to get nine more yards and kick their first of three field goals of the game on the way to a 9-6 win.
Here’s the thing though — although the call was technically correct, it’s an awful rule that is going to turn the tide in a lot of contests.
According to the 2018 NFL Rulebook, the rule is as follows:
The most significant change for 2018 is the new Use of Helmet rule. The rule states that it is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent. This rule pertains to all players on the field, and to all areas of the field.
The officiating standards for the Use of Helmet rule are:
Lowering the head (not to include bracing for contact)
Initiating contact with the helmet to any part of an opponent. Contact does not have to be to an opponent’s head or neck area — lowering the head and initiating contact to an opponent’s torso, hips, and lower body, is also a foul.
Making contact on an opponent (both offense and defense)
Malik, for his part, acknowledged the rule was called correctly but that it’s nearly impossible to get around at game speed, saying that “the NFL expects us to be acrobats” and that he expected Gabbert to continue running away from him, which he might have done had Campbell not been in his way.
But while the call was correct, Gabbert too lowered his helmet. It wasn’t to initiate contact but he was still guilty of “lowering the head and initiating contact to an opponent’s torso, hips, [or] lower body” as the rule spells out.
In all, it’s a dumb rule that is almost impossible to prevent and Malik has every right to be frustrated. Did it cost the Jaguars the game? I won’t go that far — but it did cost this team a chance to swing momentum its way early.