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NFL: 'Good start' after crackdown

NEW YORK -- One week after drawing heavy fines for illegal
hits, James Harrison and Brandon Meriweather were praised by the
NFL for clean play in Sunday's victories.

Ray Anderson, the league's executive vice president of football
operations, told The Associated Press on Monday that Meriweather
and Harrison "heeded our emphasis" on eliminating fouls and
deserve to be lauded. So do others, Anderson said, after no flags
were thrown for illegal hits to defenseless players in the 13
games.

Harrison was fined $75,000 and Meriweather $50,000 for hits to
defenseless opponents last week, when the NFL announced it would
begin suspending players for such tackles.

"We like to think we're off to a good start in terms of the new
emphasis and the recognition that we are going to play aggressively
but well within the rules," Anderson said. "It's a good start."

"Brandon Meriweather, specifically, last week we were
appropriately calling him out and chastising him," he added. "Yesterday in the Patriots' game at San Diego, Meriweather made two
very tenacious, effective and legal hits in similar situations. But
you could see it, he lowered the target area, blasted the opponent
with his shoulder. He adapted, showing it can be done. It is
appropriate to praise him for the tough play."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick was surprised to hear about
Anderson's praise.

"I think that would be a first for me," Belichick said Monday.
"The officials are now evaluating the players and their
performance. No, I mean that's great."

He then paused several seconds before adding: "I can't tell you
how much that means to me, really," drawing laughter from a room
full of reporters.

Anderson also mentioned Harrison, who skipped one day of
practice last week and said he contemplated retirement rather than
change how he plays. But Harrison played cleanly in a win at Miami,
particularly on a play in which Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown
already was being hit by Steelers linebacker Larry Foote.

"There certainly was one play, on a hit on a running back, that
James Harrison may have taken a shot at the running back going
down, and Harrison let up," Anderson said. "I think he
acknowledged he let up when had a chance to put his head and helmet
in there. I applaud James for restraining himself."

Harrison recalled the play and how he pulled up near Brown when
he realized it would be a high hit.

"Other than one play, I was fine," Harrison said. "I wasn't
trying to send a message [by playing cleanly]. There was no extra
motivation for this or any other game. I was just out there playing
the game the way that I've been taught to play it since I was 10
years old."

Harrison still seemed to believe the crackdown stemmed from the
press coverage of the previous weekend's flagrant tackles.

"Maybe if that was the only one that happened," he said of his
hit on Cleveland receiver Mohamed Massaquoi that drew the hefty
fine, "it wouldn't have transpired the way it did. But there were
three or four other hits. It caused a real media storm and I guess
they felt they had to do something and they got everybody."

This week, they probably won't get anyone, judging by Anderson's
comments.

One hit that was questioned came in Tennessee's victory over
Philadelphia. Titans running back Chris Johnson was headed down the
right sideline when he was slammed helmet-to-helmet by Eagles
linebacker Ernie Sims. No flag was thrown -- correctly.

Anderson explained that Johnson was a runner with the ball
heading downfield and was anything but a defenseless player. Sims'
hit was well within the rules.

"It's never been an intention to legislate all helmet-to-helmet
hits out of the game," said Anderson, a member of the NFL's
competition committee and one of the league's loudest voices about
player safety. "We just are trying to make sure when a player is
in a defenseless situation, he is not hit in the head or neck
area."