With under six minutes to go in the second quarter of the Week 16 Monday night football matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and the Los Angeles Charges, Chargers safety Derwin James was ejected from the game for a devastating hit on Colts’ wide receiver Ashton Dulin.
Quarterback for the Colts, Nick Foles, attempted to connect on a short pass to Dulin in the open field down 7-0 late in the second quarter, when James, leading with the crown of his helmet, connected with Dulin in a hard blow and both tumbled to the turf. In the days following, head coaches for both teams went back and forth on who was to blame for the hit.
Colts, Chargers Head Coaches Go Back & Forth
In his post-game interview with the media, head coach of the Chargers Brandon Staley laid the blame for the hit on squarely on the Colts.
“It’s a play where they (the Colts) obviously laid the guy out in a tough position, which is their fault, not ours,” Staley said.
Unlike in college football, the NFL does not have an automatic ejection for a targeting penalty. According to the 2022 official rule book, for a tackle to warrant an ejection, if a player lowers his head and makes “forcible contact” with his helmet and the hit is determined to be egregious, it would warrant an ejection. Staley did not feel that the hit by James warranted one. Staley told the media that he believed James was trying to lean with his shoulder, not his helmet.
“We’ll have to look at it but I know what Derwin’s intentions are. I’ve seen him make a lot of tackles on plays just like that, and I know that his target was not above the neck. I know that.” Staley said.
Interim head coach for the Colts, Jeff Saturday, had a different view of the play, literally.
“It was right in front of me, and it definitely deserved an ejection,” Saturday said in his first comments in response to Staley “You can’t launch into a guy’s head, especially a guy who’s turned the other way and unprotected.” Saturday went on to say he flat out disagrees with Staley and that the ejection was more than warranted.
With opinions divided on intent and severity, both teams await a final ruling from the NFL. According to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, James is not facing a suspension. Though he will not miss the field for his hit, it is expected the NFL will go after James’ wallet. Pelissero went on to report that NFL insiders expect a fine to be levied.
Reactions From the Media
Across the league, NFL reporters also had a lot to say about the huge hit.
The hit on Dulin caused an audible gasp from the crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium. Troy Aikman, who was calling the game for ESPN, seemed stunned by the hit, and that is coming from someone who knows a thing or two about big hits. Aikman has famously claimed he does not even remember the 1994 NFC Championship game due to a concussion he sustained from a hard blow. Aikman called the tackle by James one of the biggest collisions he has ever seen.
Many across the NFL chimed in on the hit. Chris Sims of Pro Football Talk called the hit “illegal” and egregious.” ESPN reporter Ben Baby called that type of tackle an “automatic ejection.” NFL Network’s Steve Wyche said the hit on Dulin had many “shook.”
It didn’t take long after the play for it to be reviewed by head referee Clay Martin to determine that the play deserved an ejection. Colts’ receiver Dulin was taken off to the medical tent for a concussion evaluation and he also did not return to the game. After the contest, Dulin did let fans know he was okay in a tweet post-game where he said he was all good.
As of December 28, both players were still in the NFL’s concussion protocol.