- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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The NFL on Tuesday fined New England Patriots defensive back Brandon Meriweather $50,000 for two helmet-to-helmet hits on Baltimore Ravens tight end Todd Heap in Sunday's game. He will not be suspended.
Meriweather was flagged for a second-quarter hit on Heap, who lay on the field being attended to by Ravens medical personnel for several minutes before getting up under his own power. Heap was leaping for a Joe Flacco pass that had sailed over his head when Meriweather thrust himself, helmet-first, into the Ravens' tight end.
Earlier in the game, Meriweather also hit Heap hard near the goal line. He was not penalized for that hit.
James Harrison, who laid out two Browns players, was fined $75,000 as a repeat offender, but also will not incur a suspension.
Harrison sidelined two Browns with head injuries after jarring hits. An NFL spokesman said one of the tackles, on Josh Cribbs, was legal. The Browns were more upset about Harrison's hit on Mohamed Massaquoi, which the league has said is under review.
Falcons defensive back Dunta Robinson also was fined Tuesday, $50,000 for his collision with Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson. Both players were knocked out of the game and suffered concussions when Robinson launched himself head first into the receiver.
After a weekend full of dangerous hits, the NFL announced Tuesday that it will immediately begin suspending players for dangerous and flagrant hits that violate rules, particularly those involving helmets.
Suspensions will be in place for this weekend's games, vice president of football operations Ray Anderson said Tuesday.
Anderson was highly critical of Meriweather's hit in particular, but apparently did not think it worthy of a suspension.
"That, in our view, is something that was flagrant, it was egregious and effective immediately that's going to be looked at a very aggressive level which could include suspension without pay," Anderson said.
On Tuesday morning before the NFL's announcement, Anderson told ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike in the Morning": "We've got to get the message to players that these devastating hits and head shots will be met with a very necessary higher standard of accountability. We have to dispel the notion that you get one free pass in these egregious or flagrant shots."
In the past, players were either fined or ejected for illegal hits. But after the series of recent flagrant tackles, several of which resulted in concussions, the NFL ramped up the punishment "for egregious and elevated hits," Anderson said.
Fines for such hits usually fell in the $5,000-$15,000 range, so Meriweather's $50,000 fine is steep by comparison. Meriweather is making $550,000 this season, so the hit to his wallet is significant.
In a conference call earlier in the day, before the NFL's ruling, Patriots coach Bill Belichick deflected questions about a possible punishment. "Right now my focus is on San Diego and trying to get our team ready to go out there and play them," Belichick said. "All those questions really need to be asked of someone in the league office."
Meriweather said Monday that his hit on Heap was not intentional and that any punishment handed down by the NFL would not alter his aggressive approach to the game.
"I'm going to be aggressive, point blank," Meriweather said during his weekly interview on Boston sports radio station WEEI. "I won't change my game, period. I'm sorry it happened. Heap is actually a real good friend of mine. I talked to him yesterday and let him know it wasn't intentional and he told me he understood."
Meriweather said he went for the hit because he thought Heap was going to come down with the pass.
"We ran that play a thousand times at practice," Meriweather said. "Every time at practice I broke on the ball and the tight end caught it every time. I thought it was going to be overthrown but the tight end always seemed to go and get it. Instead of me waiting for the ball to see if it was going to be overthrown I just attacked. I wasn't trying for head-to-head contact, or trying to injure anybody, or play dirty in any kind of way. It just happened."
Meriweather agreed with the notion introduced by the WEEI radio host that had he stayed back on the play he could have intercepted the pass.
"You always have to make a split-second decision and my split-second decision was to be aggressive and not wait for it," Meriweather said.
Even if you try to avoid helmet-to-helmet hits, Meriweather explained, sometimes they are not preventable.
"You never know what someone is going to do," Meriweather said. "You can try to go with your shoulder, but what if they move the same way you move, then it's still going to be head to head. There's a million different ways you can get head-to-head contact. You just gotta play aggressive. When things happen like that you just pray that nobody gets hurt."
Anderson isn't buying that explanation. He said that players should be able to adjust their technique to the rules and avoid illegal hits.
The defender, Anderson said, "has to adjust his target area. He has to wrap up. He has to do things more fundamentally."
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter. Material from the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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