The Minnesota Vikings have no one to blame but themselves for missing the Super Bowl. If you commit five turnovers and can't count to 12 you don't deserve the Lombardi Trophy. But the Vikings aren't the only ones who screwed the pooch in the NFC Championship Game.
Pete Morelli screwed it with them.
|Remi Ayodele hit Brett Favre high while Bobby McCray hit the QB below the knees from behind. (AP)|
I'm talking, of course, about Bobby McCray's blindside hit on Brett Favre -- a blatant violation of the "Tom Brady rule" that was adopted at last year's NFL owners' meetings.
Essentially, the rule says that defenders can't hit quarterbacks below the knees, as Kansas City's Bernard Pollard hit Brady in the 2008 season opener -- and it's easy to see why: The blows are dangerous and can be season-ending and/or career-threatening.
When Brady's season ended with torn knee ligaments, the NFL decided to intervene to prevent others from suffering similar injuries. So it clarified a rule prohibiting defenders on the ground from lunging or diving at the quarterback's legs, as Pollard had done to Brady.
The rule was simple and easy to understand. You hit a quarterback below the knees –-- provided you're not blocked into him -- you get flagged. I get it. You get it. So how come Pete Morelli missed it?
I mean, if you watch a replay of the hit, McCray flashes from Favre's right side and lunges at him from behind, hitting him below the knees and toppling the quarterback to the ground. Granted, Brady was hit from the front and Favre from behind, but that's the only difference.
Not only was the hit illegal, it could have ended Favre's career -- and watching Favre helped off the field and his wife's reaction in the stands I thought it had.
The blow was bad. What was worse was that nothing happened. There was no flag. There was no foul. Nothing. So Favre limps off the field, the New Orleans Saints run on and the game proceeds as if nothing extraordinary had happened.
But something had.
Favre had thrown a pass that was intercepted and was hammered to the ground in a textbook violation of league rules. As one friend of mine said, "Favre's decision was bad, but Morelli's decision was worse."
I ran the play past several persons I trust with NFL clubs, and all agreed that it fit the definition of the Brady rule. Yeah, they said, it was a judgment call, but it might have been ... OK, probably should have been ... called, and they explained it as I explained it to you: You hit a defenseless quarterback below the knees, you violate the Brady rule.
Simple as that.
McCray wasn't flagged, but I wouldn't be surprised if he gets fined by the NFL because I believe it will see what Morelli should have -- namely, that McCray committed an egregious personal foul. All I know is that the intent of the Brady rule was to prohibit hits like the one we witnessed Sunday, and I'm not waving the flag because it's Brett Favre; I just don't like seeing defenseless quarterbacks struck at or below the knees.
Neither does the NFL, which is why it adopted the rule in the first place. Like it or not, the NFL has made it a point to protect quarterbacks, and it didn't protect Favre on Sunday.
To be clear, when the league clarified the "Brady rule" it said, "it is not a foul if the defender is blocked [or fouled] into the passer and has no opportunity to avoid him." But McCray had every opportunity to avoid Favre, and he was not blocked into him. He was going for the sack and, if that wasn't going to happen, he was going for the pressure.
That's fine. What isn't is hitting below the knees.
"We're trying to make the game safer for the guy getting hit and the guy doing the hitting," Mike Pereira, the league's vice president of officiating, said last March.
Well, tell me how they made it safer for Brett Favre.
Saints fans can tell you that, yeah, well, so what? The game wouldn't have changed. I wouldn't be so sure there, people. First of all, Favre's pass was intercepted. Second, it was intercepted at the New Orleans 28. Third, a penalty not only would have overruled the interception; it would have put the Vikings in business at the New Orleans 19. Last, of course, it would have kept a drive alive and, in all likelihood, led to a score the Vikings never had.
Look, I don't blame Morelli for costing the Vikings the game. Minnesota lost this one fair and square all by itself. But I do blame him for not doing his job. It's one thing if McCray was blocked into Favre, but he wasn't. He lunged into the quarterback, hammered him below the knees and hurt him.
Fortunately, Favre was not seriously injured, but Morelli's reputation was -- at least, it was for me. I understand missing a call. It happens. But I don't understand missing a call that you witness. Pete Morelli blew this one, and he blew it bad.