The protest started almost immediately Thursday night after officials caught Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson punching New Orleans Saints tight end David Thomas. Saints coach Sean Payton called for Woodson to be ejected. So did NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth.
WoodsonOver on Twitter, @Chewblaha asked why Woodson remained in the game considering Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris was ejected from a game two years ago for punching Arizona Cardinals offensive Deuce Lutui. @HuhNJ demanded consistency. If Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has been called dirty, "where is all the talk of Woodson being dirty? His punch was much worse than Suh's" on New England guard Logan Mankins.
Referee Clete Blakeman's crew assessed a 15-yard penalty but decided against ejection, helping us clear up a common misconception. NFL rules do not mandate an automatic ejection for a punch. In fact, here is how Section 2 of Rule 12 reads:
STRIKING, KICKING, OR KNEEING OPPONENT
Article 1 All players are prohibited from:
(a) striking with the fists;
(b) kicking or kneeing; or
(c) striking, swinging, or clubbing to the head, neck, or face with the heel, back, or side of the hand, wrist, arm, elbow, or clasped hands. See 12-2-3.
(d) 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.
Note: It is not necessary for a player to pull the runner completely to the ground in order for the act to be illegal. If his knees are buckled by the action, it is a foul, even if the runner is not pulled completely to the ground.
Penalty: For fouls in a, b, c, and d: Loss of 15 yards. If any of the above acts is judged by the official(s) to be flagrant, the offender may be disqualified as long as the entire action is observed by the official(s).
The key sentence is the final one. Blakeman had two standards to meet if he wanted to eject Woodson. First, he needed to judge the punch to be "flagrant." Then, he had to ensure that at least one member of his crew saw "the entire action."
That second step is important because it is intended to protect a player who was baited, or retaliated, from being ejected while his antagonizer goes unpunished. It's reasonable to expect that at least one of the game's seven officials saw the "entire action," but Woodson implied afterwards that more happened than a single punch.
According to Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com, Woodson said that Thomas was "holding me a little longer than I wanted" and added: "I know the referees saw what was going on. I'm sure that probably swayed their decision not to eject me."
Woodson made a big mistake, one that was inexcusable from a veteran and team captain. He admitted as much and was fortunate the Saints didn't capitalize on the ensuing 15-yard penalty. Woodson almost certainly will receive a hefty NFL fine.
But calls for an automatic ejection were unfounded. Like any entity, the NFL has checks and balances to protect against auto-implementation of any discipline. This instance was no different. I couldn't tell you what Blakeman saw, or didn't see, that compelled him to allow Woodson to keep playing. But he absolutely had that option under NFL rules.