With under two minutes remaining before halftime Sunday, the Browns nearly found the end zone to draw their matchup with the Chiefs within one score. Instead, disaster struck.
Wide receiver Rashard Higgins reeled in a deep ball from quarterback Baker Mayfield and reached out the football toward the goal line. Kansas City safety Daniel Sorensen laid a big hit on Higgins — and led with the crown of his helmet — that jarred the ball out of Higgins’ grasp.
The ball trickled out of the end zone, resulting in a touchback and giving the Chiefs possession.
remember how it’s a penalty to lower you head to initiate contact with your helmet and let’s just ignore it shall we pic.twitter.com/74TFXrujnm— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) January 17, 2021
Criticism surrounding the play soon arrived. First, the hit from Sorensen appeared to fit the description of targeting. On the CBS broadcast, rules analyst Gene Steratore said he believed the hit featured “illegal use of the helmet.”
That’s penalty is not reviewable, however. It should be, according to former NFL wideout Nate Burleson on the CBS halftime show.
“It should be a reviewable play, especially with us making an emphasis on keeping players healthy,” Burleson said. “You should be able to look at that play again and then throw a flag afterwards.”
The other side of the equation is what former Cleveland offensive lineman Joe Thomas called “the worst rule in football.” Because Higgins’ fumble went out of the back of the end zone, Kansas City gained possession at the 20-yard line. The Chiefs marched down the field and tacked on a field goal before halftime.
“I hate the fact that the ball goes back to the defensive team on their own 20-yard line,” former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason said on the CBS halftime show. “I think it’s a very extreme rule.”
Esiason’s not alone in that feeling, with the Browns — and plenty of neutral observers — likely agreeing.
Huge break for the Chiefs. It’s also my least favorite rule in pro sports.— Colin Cowherd (@ColinCowherd) January 17, 2021
To add another element to that play, Higgins’ fumble comes exactly 33 years after Browns running back Earnest Byner fumbled in the 1997 AFC Championship game. Byner was on his way into the end zone before he was stripped at the one.
A score would’ve drawn Cleveland within a point of the Broncos; instead, Denver held on to a 38-33 victory.
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