Dirty Laundry: More horsecollar action

We’ve had a number of conversations in this space about the horsecollar rule, most recently as it was applied during the Nov. 15 game between Minnesota and Detroit. In that instance, you might recall, officials did not flag Lions cornerback Phillip Buchanon even though he rode Peterson for 15 yards -- with his left hand inside Peterson’s shoulder pads -- before finally bringing him down.

Last Thursday, we saw the Lions penalized for a similar play. In the second quarter of Green Bay’s 34-12 victory, safety Marvin White grabbed the collar of Packers tight end Jermichael Finley with his right hand and made the tackle over a 2-yard distance. Referee Bill Leavy whistled White for a horsecollar, and while Lions coach Jim Schwartz protested, White accepted the penalty by patting his chest as if to say, “My bad.”

The only difference between the Buchanon play and the White play was that in the former, Peterson wasn’t immediately tackled. And yes, as you probably know by now, the NFL rule includes the word “immediately.” Here, again, is the official definition of the horsecollar penalty:

Grabbing the inside collar of the back of the shoulder pads or jersey, or the inside collar of the side of the shoulder pads or jersey, and immediately pulling down the runner. This does not apply to a runner who is in the tackle box or to a quarterback who is in the pocket.

I originally suggested that Buchanon shouldn’t be exonerated simply because Peterson didn’t fall to the ground right away, a stance many of you protested with a strict reading of the rule. But to me, the penalty was created to prevent injuries when players are forcefully pulled backwards from the top. If we’re going to start meting out penalties based on the result of the play, then we might as well wipe out holding calls when the player still pushes through the hold to make a tackle.

The NFL doesn’t comment on subjective penalties, so I can’t tell you for sure that Buchanon escaped penalty because he couldn’t immediately pull Peterson to the ground. But if that is the case, I think we have a flawed rule on our hands. Peterson could have been injured 15 yards downfield just as easily as Finley could have been injured after 2 yards.

OK, thus ends my rant for this week. Moving on to our updated Challenge Tracker: