Another Detroit Lions player is under fire for a potential dirty move after the play. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune noted that after a short Jordan Howard run on the first possession of Sunday’s game, Lions linebacker Tahir Whitehead steps on the lower leg of Bears left tackle Charles Leno. Check it out:
Sensationalists will call it a stomp, but this isn’t the first time a Lions player has been accused of such a thing. Ndamukong Suh was called out twice for stepping on an opposing player intentionally. The first came on a Thanksgiving bout with the Packers which resulted in an ejection for Suh. The second occurrence also came against Green Bay, when Suh stepped backwards onto Aaron Rodgers’ lower leg. Suh received a costly one-game suspension, but later won the appeal and the suspension was lifted. Just prior to that second Suh incident, Dominic Raiola was suspended a game for stepping on Ego Ferguson’s ankle.
But the Lions have come a long ways since then. Jim Caldwell’s Detroit Lions have not been accused or suspended for dirty play since after his first year with the team in 2014.
So is Whitehead due for some punishment? It’s hard to say.
First off, it’s incredibly hard to determine if this was an intentional act. From the video above, it doesn’t look like Whitehead aggressively stomps down in any way, but he also doesn’t appear to attempt to avoid stepping on Leno’s leg. Granted, there isn’t a lot of room for Whitehead to step around, but it’s still a tough video to watch.
One thing I was personally looking for was an “Oh crap, I’m sorry” moment from Whitehead, because in the video above, he doesn’t look all that apologetic for digging his cleats into Leno’s leg. So I watched a longer cut of the play via the All-22 film provided by NFL Game Pass. Here’s that view:
Unfortunately, we don’t get much more than a very brief, very subtle over-the-shoulder look back.
All that being said, Tahir Whitehead has an incredibly clean record throughout his six-year career. According to Biggs, Whitehead has been fined once, and that was for an all-too-common hit on a defenseless player during the 2014 playoff game against the Cowboys. Never has Whitehead been publicly accused of dirty play.
It seems like a punishment is fairly unlikely in this situation. There’s no clear intention, Whitehead doesn’t have a dirty reputation, and there’s precedent for this sort of thing. Just last week, one of the most notoriously dirty players in the league—Vontaze Burfict—escaped punishment after being accused of stomping on a player’s arm.
The league will certainly take note of this incident from Whitehead, but I would be very surprised if a punishment is coming.
UPDATE: Tahir Whitehead’s wife made a comment on Twitter about the play:
I’m appalled. My husband would NEVER intentionally attempt to hurt another player. I won’t stand by and allow you or any other media personnel to question his integrity or defame him in any way.— Shannon Whitehead (@Shananigans59) November 21, 2017
UPDATE 2: Here is Tahir’s account of what happened:
Tahir Whitehead said he apologized to Bears OT Charles Leno right after the play happened, that it was unintentional— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) November 21, 2017