Commentary

Seymour not about to apologize for on-field tactics

Teammates say he plays to win. Opponents say he's dirty. Whatever the case, Richard Seymour always seems to make his presence felt, writes Mike Sando.

Originally Published: January 28, 2008
By Mike Sando | ESPN.com

PHOENIX -- Offensive linemen relish playing to the whistle and sometimes longer.

They'll fall on a defensive tackle unnecessarily as a play is ending, or shove a linebacker a few ticks after the whistle, or deck an unsuspecting defender who dared to loiter around the pile after a tackle.

Such time-honored shenanigans have frustrated and enraged defensive players for years.

Instead of complaining, the New England Patriots' defensive line has claimed such tactics as its own, much to the frustration of opponents. The NFL has fined Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork four times during New England's march to Super Bowl XLII, but defensive end Richard Seymour might be less popular among offensive linemen.

Seymour was in fine form during the Patriots' 21-12 victory over San Diego in the AFC title game, to the point that Chargers center Nick Hardwick called him a "dirty, cheap little pompous b----" after the game.

[+] EnlargeRichard Seymour
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesRichard Seymour uses an aggressive approach to take opponents out of their comfort zone.

According to Hardwick, Seymour's crimes included "head-slapping, foot-stomping in the pile, running by and throwing punches in your back late."

The NFL found nothing that rose to the level of a fine-able offense. But a careful review of the broadcast video revealed Seymour as a master at getting under an opponent's skin. San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson had just gained 2 yards on the second play of the game when Seymour bumped Chargers guard Kris Dielman with an elbow after the play.

It wasn't anything particularly malicious, just a reminder that Dielman, the Chargers' avowed enforcer on offense, wasn't the only player worthy of the label.

Following the first play of the Chargers' ninth offensive possession, Seymour bumped Dielman again, hard enough for the Pro Bowl guard to complain to the nearest official. Three plays later, Seymour fell hard on Dielman as the play was ending, perhaps unnecessarily.

Two plays after that, as players were piled up following a red-zone running play, Seymour sent Chargers tackle Marcus McNeill over backward with an unnecessary shove. McNeill complained to the officials, the way defensive linemen often do. Seymour wasn't finished.

On the Chargers' final possession, Seymour tagged Hardwick with a roundhouse left to the side of the helmet while working against a double-team block. Seymour's intentions were not clear, and there was no flag.

After the next play, Seymour knocked Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to the ground with a hip check. Rivers complained to the nearest official, who appeared to warn Seymour. There was no penalty.

He will play to the whistle and beyond, especially when he is challenged. When any of us are challenged, we are not going to back down.

-- Tedy Bruschi on Richard Seymour

"I play the game the way the game is supposed to be played," Seymour said as the Patriots held their first media session upon arriving in Arizona for Super Bowl XLII. "When the whistle blows, that is time out, time for you to stop."

Seymour resisted elaboration after addressing the issue in the days following the game. His teammates offered clearer insight into what makes the 6-foot-6, 310-pound defensive end a pain to play against.

"He will play to the whistle and beyond, especially when he is challenged," Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. "When any of us are challenged, we are not going to back down.

"If a guy wants to continually push and push after the whistle, OK, we're going to play the same way. That's the way you should play and we don't really fault people for playing that way. But sometimes it adds a little bit of extra chippiness to the game and we recognize that also as being part of what happens when you are trying to win."

Seymour generally lines up against the opposing team's left guard and/or left tackle. Against the Chargers, he moved inside on some third-down plays, lining up directly over Hardwick.

Unofficially, Seymour played 45 of 59 defensive snaps against the Chargers, but he tangled with Hardwick only five times.

Hardwick and Dielman double-teamed Seymour on two of those five plays, including the play when Seymour struck Hardwick on the side of the helmet.

The game featured two man-to-man matchups between Hardwick and Seymour. Seymour's actions surrounding those plays appeared unremarkable -- lacking the alleged head-slapping, foot-stomping, etc.

"Richard plays hard," Patriots center Dan Koppen said. "He plays the game the way the game should be played. He's a tough competitor and he is a tough player to play against because he is so good."

Mike Sando covers the NFL for ESPN.com.