Patriots React to ‘Hip-Drop’ Tackle That Injured RB Rhamondre Stevenson

Rhamondre Stevenson

Getty New England Patriots' players reacted in a surprising way after Rhamondre Stevenson was injured against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 13.

Losing 6-0 at home to the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 13 was bad enough, but the New England Patriots also lost running back Rhamondre Stevenson to injury.

Arguably the most effective player on an otherwise miserable offense, Stevenson was forced off the field with an ankle problem after a controversial “hip-drop” tackle by rookie linebacker Tuli Tuipulotu in the first quarter.

Despite the method of tackling earning plenty of scrutiny recently, two Patriots players don’t believe it’s a dirty play. Center David Andrews cautioned against the NFL changing the rules too often, per Doug Kyed of the Boston Herald: “You’re eventually going to take away everything from the game, right?”

Andrews’ teammate, safety Jabrill Peppers, offered this no-frills take: “It’s football. People trying to soften the game up. Injuries are going to occur.”

Those are surprisingly measured answers on two levels. First, the Patriots have all the frustration they can handle and more after dropping to 2-10. It would have been natural for some of that frustration to boil over when players were asked about an injured teammate.

The bigger surprise is Andrews and Peppers not echoing the growing sentiment about so-called “hip-drop” tackles. It’s a debate that gained traction after Baltimore Ravens’ All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews was lost for the season after being tackled by middle linebacker Logan Wilson against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 11.

Regardless of how they view the tackle, the Patriots know they’ve lost perhaps their most dependable skill player, possibly for the long haul.

Rhamondre Stevenson Faces Anxious Wait for Injury Update

Stevenson won’t know the full extent of his injury until he’s had an MRI, which is likely to “show a sprain,” according to Jeff Howe of The Athletic.

It means No. 38 could miss a few weeks or even the rest of the season. He hasn’t been what he was a year ago, but Stevenson is still a versatile workhorse the Patriots can trust to move the ball.

The 25-year-old had averaged 4.3 yards on nine carries before leaving the game, per ESPN. Stevenson being on the shelf should mean veteran Ezekiel Elliott finally gets more of a role, but there’s so much more to fix on this offense.

Replacing Mac Jones with Bailey Zappe at quarterback yielded no improvement. Instead, the points-shy Patriots equalled an unwanted record last set in 1938, according to NFL Research.

Snapping this unwanted streak will be tough without Stevenson. His absence will also add to the chatter about safe tackling technique in today’s game.

‘Hip-Drop’ Tackle Debate Not Going Away

Wrapping and dragging at the hip came under scrutiny after Andrews went down. The controversial tackle prompted Wilson to defend himself, per WCPO’s Caleb Noe (h/t Pro Football Talk’s Charean Williams):

“You’re just trying to find a way to bring the guy down, and unfortunately that’s what happened. I’d never wish it upon him. Whatever they decide to do with the hip-drop tackle going forward, we’ll have to adjust, but it would make it a lot harder if that’s what they decide to do.”

This a tough issue, not least because “the NFL doesn’t think this is a common technique, according to NBC Sports’ Peter King. He revealed, “The league has found it to occur approximately once per game, so maybe 300 times a season. The big question is intent.”

Proving intent is difficult. Applying a blanket rule to limit how defenders tackle might take away yet another means of stopping offenses running riot every week. Add it to the quarterback-friendly roughing the passer and pass interference laws.

Striking the right balance between player safety and not making the methodology of the game unrecognizable is an unenviable task.

In the meantime, Stevenson will hope his season isn’t over. The Patriots still need him.

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