Where did the NFL 'use of helmet' rule go? Why it's no longer called, its impact on the game, more

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Here's an NFL brainteaser to end your week: If a penalty is never called, is it still a penalty?

Through six weeks of the 2021 season, referees did not make a single mention of the once-notorious "use of helmet" rule. Not one of the 1,391 flags thrown in 94 games were attributed to a rule the league heralded in 2018 as paradigm-changing, one designed to prohibit players from using a posture found to increase the chances of head, neck and spine injuries.

You might not have noticed amid the historic run of close games, field goal battles and the evolution of four-down offense. And, hey, that's OK. In most cases, we should welcome the absence of flags, because it should mean the fouls are not occurring. Yet anyone who watches an NFL game can see frequent uncalled violations of the helmet rule, which prohibits a player from lowering his helmet to initiate contact with an opponent. All of which makes us wonder why.

The answer is revealing in many ways. It demonstrates not only the limits of legislating danger out of football, but also how the NFL has attempted to camouflage that undeniable reality.