The hit that Steelers linebacker James Harrison put on Cleveland wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi Sunday is being reviewed by NFL officials to determine if it were illegal and if so what punishment the league would issue.
Harrison's earlier hit that knocked Joshua Cribbs from the game in the second quarter of the Steelers' 28-10 victory in Heinz Field was determined to be legal, according to an NFL spokesman.
"The first hit (on Cribbs, who was a runner) was legal," Greg Aiello told the Post-Gazette in an email this afternoon. "The second will be reviewed."
Neither of Harrison's hits that knocked Browns Joshua Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi from the game for good drew a penalty, at least not on Sunday. But those two were among a handful of vicious hits to the head around the NFL Sunday that have drawn the attention from the league office and ultimately could draw punishment including a fine and/or suspension.
Ray Anderson, the league's vice president of football operations whose office doles out such punishment, reacted swiftly to the head hits on Monday.
"There's strong testimonial for looking readily at evaluating discipline, especially in the areas of egregious and elevated dangerous hits," he told the Associated Press.
"Going forward there are certain hits that occurred that will be more susceptible to suspension. There are some that could bring suspensions for what are flagrant and egregious situations."
The first of Harrison's hits did not come in question, even though his helmet hit Cribbs' helmet on a running play. It seemed unavoidable, two players flying through the air with no apparent intent by Harrison to lower his helmet into Cribbs' helmet. The rules allow for such an inadvertent hit.
The second hit by Harrison is the one that has come into question. Harrison hit Massaquoi high, not necessarily helmet to helmet, but it does not need to be a collision of helmets to be ruled illegal.
In the past -- such as Ryan Clark's big hit on receiver Wes Welker a few years ago in New England -- the hit clearly would have been legal. But the new rule, changed at the NFL meetings in March, now says that a defender must give the receiver time to protect himself after catching the ball before he is hit high. Did Harrison do that?
Mike Tomlin was quick to note Sunday that they were "Legal hits, not fineable hits. He played good football." Unfortunately for Harrison and the Steelers, Tomlin is not the final judge on such things. The NFL will let him know their ruling, usually no later than Wednesday.