Almost once a game, an NFL player absorbs an illegal blow to the head or neck that could put his career — or worse — at risk.
The league has tried to reduce such blows in the past four years, targeting improper technique and making a point to penalize and fine players for hits that leave them and their opponents vulnerable. Yet an Associated Press review of penalties through the first 11 weeks this season found those hits are still prevalent.
AP reviewed 549 penalties, 491 of which fell under the category of major infractions: unnecessary roughness, unsportsmanlike conduct, roughing the passer, face masks and roughing the quarterback.
Of the penalties charted over the first 162 games of the season, AP identified 156 involving contact with the head and neck — or 0.962 a game. Of those, 38 were for head-wrenching face masks, 25 for horse collars and 93 for hits to the head. Quarterbacks (40) and receivers (38) shared the brunt of them.
The league declined comment, though it made a statement of sorts in the offseason in deciding against the five percent hike in minimum fines, as allowed for in the union contract.
A sentiment among the players the AP spoke to on offense was that they appreciate all the NFL has done to protect them. But, Titans running back Chris Johnson said players know that "sometimes you just can't control where you hit somebody."
Defensive players acknowledged they have to do their part to make the game safer.
"The face mask, that's going to happen. The pass interference, those things are going to happen. The stupid fouls, hitting the quarterbacks late and doing all the other stuff we've done, we have to eliminate it," said Titans safety Bernard Pollard, who has been fined $62,000 this season.
But defenders also reiterated a long-held belief that they're held to a different standard than offensive counterparts.
"No doubt," Packers cornerback Tramon Williams said. "Guys are still getting penalized for clean shots, getting fined for clean shots, and there's no other explanation to it."
True to the defenders' complaints, the AP review tallied 224 major infractions against the defense, with only 69 going against the offense.
Similarly, penalties for low hits, which many thought would rise, were relatively low — only 35.
"The way offenses are playing now and the way running backs block now, I think it's almost every play," Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said when asked how often a defensive player's legs get targeted.
No surgery for Peterson: Adrian Peterson will not need surgery on his foot injury, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported. His status for Sunday against the Eagles was unknown.
Flex scheduling: The Bears-Eagles game Dec. 22 in will move to 8:30 p.m., replacing Patriots-Ravens, which moves to 4:25.
Cowboys: An MRI exam on linebacker Sean Lee's neck revealed no major damage, ESPN reported. Lee was hurt Monday against the Bears.
Ravens: Receiver Brandon Stokley (concussion) went on season-ending injured reserve.