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STYF: Tackling – it is all about using your head

The last play of Sunday’s game was disappointing for the Bears.

But for all the wrong reasons.

Sidney Rice caught Russell Wilson’s pass, ran toward the corner of the end zone, and Major Wright met him there, shoulder first.

As players from both teams, and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, pleaded with the refs about whether Rice was in the end zone, Rice laid flat on the field and was examined by trainers.

He made the play of the game, but paid a price for it.

After the game, reports are that Rice was acting fine. He later tweeted he had passed all tests.

“Thanks for the prayers,” he wrote. “I passed all of the test and cleared to go for next week. ...”

When you watch the play, and Rice’s body appear to go limp, it’s clear something bad could have happened.

Wright lowered his head and shoulder and forced Rice to drop the ball. It was a few yards too late to impact the result of the game, but it certainly impacted Rice.

“I’m just trying to stop them from scoring,” Wright said. “My mindset was to stop them from scoring and do whatever I could.

“I’m aggressive, that’s how this defense is.”

Some things have changed. Some things haven’t.

Wright likely will get fined for the hit. But he vows that won’t change how he plays.

“Whatever happens, happens. I can’t let that stop my game,” Wright said. “I’m going to come up and keep doing what I have to do.”

Wright’s hit is everything the rules are trying to eliminate.

A receiver flailing toward the end zone and a defender, not looking with his head down, using his head and shoulder as a weapon.

The reality is, without taking away tackling, concussions are a reality of football. The NFL cannot stop them. They can only hope to limit them and respond appropriately.

The reaction certainly has changed.

Earl Bennett was removed from Sunday’s game when his was diagnosed. That’s been happening around the league much more this season, and don’t think for a minute that’s because there are more concussions.

But defenders have to stop putting their heads down to hit people. Simple as that.

It’s asking for something bad to happen.

Many times a defender can’t stop himself a yard short. Or judge, at full speed, where the ballcarrier’s head will be located upon impact. They can choose to keep their head up while making a hit.

The problem is policing it. Officials have a hard job already, so judging in-game intent is nearly impossible.

During the third quarter, Seattle’s Alan Branch was penalized 15 yards for hitting Jay Cutler as he slid. It didn’t look flagrant, or to Cutler’s head, or late.

Later in the game, on a Russell Wilson slide, it looked like a penalty could be called but wasn’t.

During the week, the NFL reviews plays and issues fines. During that time, they aren’t afraid to punish defenders for hits that weren’t penalized in the game.

What they have been afraid of – this year – is suspending players for it.

The penalties need to stiffen and the players need to understand something is wrong.

No one is asking you to stop playing hard. They are asking you to start playing smart.

And when you make a stupid play – like Wright did on the final play – don’t respond by saying that nothing will change.

Charles Tillman has been creating turnovers all season. But hasn’t been leading with his head.

There is another way to play the game.

Guys like Major Wright just need to find it.

• Northwest Herald sports editor Jon Styf can be reached at

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