Denver Broncos safety Darian Stewart lit up Oakland Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper in Sunday’s loss, knocking Cooper out of the game. He laid on the ground for a long time after the hit, but was finally able to leave.
Stewart was flagged for unnecessary roughness on the play. In the modern NFL, that usually means there’s a good chance he’ll be fined this week. If he is, he already has a plan.
“Also Broncos Darian Stewart told Denver7 he will appeal if fined for hit on Cooper,” wrote Troy Renck. “Felt [that he] led with his shoulder, which is what I saw. Replays showed Cooper duck his head as he was struck, leading to the nasty collision.”
Renck was certainly not the only one who saw it that way.
“He shouldn’t be fined,” wrote Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post. “He shouldn’t have been penalized. Cooper lowered his head.”
It’s true. Cooper reached out to catch the ball as Stewart flew across the field. As the hit came in, Stewart went low and turned his body so that he hit Cooper with his shoulder and his back, rather than his helmet. He was working as hard as he could to avoid a head shot and to not lead with his helmet. Bracing for the hit, though, Cooper ducked into it at the last second and created that dangerous contact.
Will the NFL see it that way? It’s hard to know. They have to take head injuries seriously, and they should. In some cases, that has meant cracking down on plays that perhaps don’t warrant a fine just to try to get dangerous hits out of the game – even though it’s hard to know what Stewart could have done differently, short of not hitting Cooper at all.
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