Ryan Mundy not only hits Heyward-Bey in the chin with his helmet, an illegal hit no matter what; at the time of impact, Heyward-Bey is also what’s called a defenseless receiver. The idea that this could somehow not receive any flag is laughable, but that’s exactly what happened: the Steelers got away without having to cede any yardage.
Seeing this immediately calls to mind the block that Seattle Seahawks receiver Golden Tate laid on Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee last week. Even though he would later be fined by the league, Tate’s blindside helmet-to-helmet shot received no in-game flag.
There seems to be a growing anecdotal consensus among football watchers that the number of hits like this — the kind of hits that leave guys concussed or, in the worst cases, paralyzed — have increased in number this year. Why? Because the refs don’t penalize them. Players will use any advantage they can get, and the confusion and inconsistency of the replacement refs allows them to push the limits of what is and is not going to receive a flag. Nobody wants to get hit like this, and it’s tremendously useful for a defensive back to insert the thought into a receiver’s mind that it could happen. A very large part of what the refs are for is to prevent imbalances like this, and by that measure — and many others — these replacement refs are failures.
It’s one thing to complain about the quality of play, or the speed of the game, or any of the other factors that the refs are affecting. But when players start getting needlessly hurt, the issue becomes something far more significant, and it’s on the league. The NFL needs to do whatever it takes to get the real refs back on the field.