Heath Miller sustained a concussion on a brutal helmet-to-helmet hit from Baltimore's Jameel McClain. This is what the NFL's trying to prevent. They're doing a damn shitty job.
Many of these "defenseless receiver" calls are bang-bang plays, where it's not physically possible for the defender to alter his course when trying to break up a catch. But last night's hit was different. In slo-mo it's clear that McClain launched himself at Miller after the pass was broken up — and in any case, a shot to the chest would have produced the same intended result.
Everyone not wearing purple goggles knew immediately it was a dirty hit (or what the NFL has decided to call "dirty" this year, anyway). Everyone but the refs. And even though the league admitted the mistake, and will probably fine McClain, the entire purpose of cracking down on these hits is determent. If you're not going to throw the flag, that's out the window.
Who cares about a fine? The players like their money, but they like getting on highlight reels and increasing their fame and perceived value more. A punishment, days after the fact, isn't going to make someone think twice. Only penalizing in the game, making a dirty hit something that negatively affects the team, can deter them. And the refs and the league clearly aren't all on the same page for what constitutes a flagworthy hit.
The inconsistency is maddening. Had it been James Harrison instead of McClain, of course there would have been a flag. Had it been a quarterback instead of a tight end, there would have been a flag. If the NFL wants to get serious about protecting and punishing everybody equally and fairly, they'd allow instant replay on plays like this; or consider suspensions for particularly egregious offenses.
As Roger Goodell continues to tout an 18-game schedule, it's clear the purpose of cracking down was to get us to stop talking about the inherent danger of the game until the whole concussion craze blows over. That's not happening.