<
>

Falcons safety Keanu Neal refutes hit was helmet-to-helmet

PHILADELPHIA -- Atlanta Falcons rookie strong safety Keanu Neal said he did nothing wrong on a controversial fourth-quarter hit against Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jordan Matthews -- a play that did not draw a penalty for helmet-to-helmet contact in the Eagles' 24-15 victory.

"I'm not trying to hit the guy in the head,'' Neal said. "That's not me. Never in the game of football will I ever try to do that. I'm not a dirty player like that. But I went for the strike zone. I lowered my shoulder. And I felt like I hit him in the sternum. I don't think I had any head-to-head contact."

Matthews, naturally, disagreed.

"Yes, I definitely think it was a penalty,'' Matthews said. "My helmet was bent. I had to get a new face mask. I had to change out my face mask and my visor. I don't know what they saw, but at the end of the day, we got the win. So I will take a bloody lip if we get a win.''

Video replay appeared to show Neal leading with his helmet. Matthews remained on the ground for a moment grabbing at his face mask after taking the hit across the middle. The unsuccessful third-down play led to the Eagles attempting 55-yard field goal, which Caleb Sturgis missed. A penalty, of course, would have kept the Eagles' drive alive.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn didn't want to dig too deep into the play but stood behind his player.

"Yeah, I don't have any thoughts on it other than just the way he's taught in the strike zone is we're going to try and hit someone as hard as humanly possible,'' Quinn said. "And if there's a hit to the head, then we didn't lower our strike zone low enough. But I'll go back and look, but I didn't get a chance to see. ... But I can tell you [Neal] is clearly becoming a very physical safety, in the box, out.

"By no means is he taught to go up high or do anything that's out of whack. The leverage tackling that we do, we want to absolutely throw fast balls in that strike zone. And if that target is on point, I'll applaud that hit as loud as I can.''

Eagles coach Doug Pederson was asked if he got an explanation on the no-call.

"No,'' Pederson said.

Neal could be subject to a fine this week. But he maintained his innocence.

"Never do I attempt to hit someone in the head,'' Neal said. "That's just not the type of player I am. I'm not there to play like that. [Coach Quinn] always talks about the strike zone. You guys know I'm a physical player, but I'm not trying to hit the dude in the head. They didn't call a flag. ... I don't think I hit him in the head, but I didn't attempt to hit him in the head.''