NFL Rules on Suspension for Chiefs Safety After Controversial Hit vs. Browns

Daniel Sorensen Chiefs

Getty Veteran safety Daniel Sorensen delivered a controversial hit to save a touchdown for the Chiefs on Sunday.

In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death, taxes and Daniel Sorensen making plays in the AFC Divisional Round.

The Kansas City Chiefs’ seventh-year safety delivered a crucial game-changing hit late in the second quarter of Sunday’s 22-17 win over the Cleveland Browns. With less than two minutes until halftime and the Browns driving to close a 16-3 deficit, wideout Rashard Higgins hauled in a 25-yard pass before lunging toward the right pylon and being struck by Sorensen.

Video shows Sorensen putting his head down as he approaches Higgins, striking Higgins directly in the side of the helmet with the crown of his own.

The force of the hit knocked the ball loose prior to crossing the goal line and out of the back of the end zone for a touchback, resulting in a loss of possession for Cleveland — a call which fans and analysts alike quickly dubbed “the worst rule in football.”

After the controversial play, onlookers including NBA superstar and Ohio native LeBron James further erupted on social media, separately calling for at the very least a penalty flag and at most a suspension from the NFL. Now it appears neither will be the case.

On Monday, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported that the league will not suspend — but could still fine — Sorensen for the helmet-to-helmet hit.

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Ex-NFL Referees, Rules Analysts Deem Sorensen Hit Illegal

While there’s something to be said for players knowing the rules and not putting themselves in a position to be at the mercy of those regulations, multiple former NFL referees have come out against the on-field ruling.

First, CBS rules analyst Gene Steratore acknowledged on the live broadcast that Sorensen should’ve been penalized.

A few minutes later, Sunday Night Football rules analyst Terry McAulay chimed in on Twitter with a similar conclusion.

Clay Martin Worked First-Career Playoff Assignment at Referee on Sunday

After a booth review, the officiating crew — headed up by third-year referee Clay Martin in his first playoff assignment in that role — upheld the call on the field. Per league rules, Martin and company were only able to review the fumble, and could not retroactively assess a penalty, even if they did acknowledge missing the call in real-time.

Football Zebras noted on Monday that 10-year veteran and field judge Dave Meslow, working his first playoff game since 2014, “was responsible to the ball, goal line and sideline. It wasn’t his responsibility to rule on the illegal use of the helmet foul.” During a live blog of the game, Football Zebras also had this to say about the call on the field:

When viewing the live play, it is not abundantly clear that we had a UOH (“use of the helmet”) call; it was only when the pylon camera angle his our screens that we moved off the touchback ruling and then into the UOH. There is no doubt that there was helmet contact in the play, but there are a lot of considerations that do not make it an automatic foul.

Instead of a 15-yard personal foul that would’ve kept the Browns possession alive, Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City marched back down the field for a field goal, extending their lead to 19-3 at the half. Those three points ultimately were not enough to erase the Chiefs’ five-point win, but Browns fans have at least some reason to be upset considering Cleveland was set to receive the second-half kickoff with a chance to take the lead.

Ultimately, the Browns saw their impressive 11-5 campaign under first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski come to an end after some late-game heroics from Chad Henne. On the other side, Kansas City is headed to an NFL-record third straight AFC Championship in which the No. 2 seed Buffalo Bills await them on Sunday afternoon.


Chris Licata is an NFL contributor covering the Kansas City Chiefs from enemy territory in Denver, Colorado. Follow him on Twitter @Chris__Licata or join the Heavy on Chiefs Facebook community for the latest out of Chiefs Kingdom!

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