Washington Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather's two-game suspension from the NFL for multiple helmet-to-helmet hits was cut in half Wednesday on appeal.
Two days after Meriweather was told he would miss time for repeated violations of player safety rules, hearing officer Ted Cottrell reduced the punishment to one game. Cottrell was jointly appointed by the league and the players' union.
Meriweather's suspension by NFL vice-president of football operations Merton Hanks came for repeated hits to the head and neck area of defenceless players, including two in Washington's 45-41 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
Meriweather was flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit when tackling receiver Alshon Jeffery on a 28-yard completion with about two minutes left in the third quarter. He also was penalized for a helmet-first hit on Brandon Marshall in the end zone on an incomplete pass with a little more than four minutes remaining in the game.
"All of these officials, if they're going to make a mistake, they want to protect the player, so if it's anywhere close to being a helmet-to-helmet, they are throwing a 15-yard flag, and that's what they're being told to do. If you get anywhere around that head, you've got a chance to hurt your football team," Washington coach Mike Shanahan said Wednesday in Ashburn, Va. "We're constantly emphasizing it, but it's tough in the heat of battle for these guys. You're very competitive. You want to get after them. Then all of a sudden, a guy might duck at the last second, and all of a sudden you have helmet-to-helmet, and they don't even look at intent."
In Week 2, Meriweather was fined $42,000 US for a helmet-first hit on Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy, forcing Lacy out of the game with a concussion. Later that same day, another helmet-first hit gave Meriweather himself a concussion, knocking him out of the game.
Meriweather will lose about $70,000 in salary when he sits out Sunday's game at the Denver Broncos. He is not allowed to participate in any football activities with the team during the suspension.
"It's unfortunate that the league felt like it needed to suspend him," Redskins linebacker London Fletcher said. "If a receiver sees you and he ducks, sometimes you're going to hit the guy, and the intent was to not even hit the guy, so that's the tough position defenders are in. ... A lot of times you can't avoid the situation."
The suspension could leave the Redskins without their two starting safeties when they face Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Strong safety Reed Doughty got a concussion when the Bears attempted an onside kick in the fourth quarter.
Meriweather said after last weekend's game that he thought both hits against the Bears were legal. He said he's tried to change his game to suit the NFL's tackling rules.
"I wasn't trying to be dirty. I wasn't trying to hurt nobody," he said. "I didn't lead with my — didn't launch with my — head. I used my shoulder like they told me to do."
Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson said Wednesday: "You just got to adjust. I feel like he is. He's trying to be a better player. But sometimes it's hard to lose that reputation in the end."