Los Angeles Chargers Justin Herbert was cleared of the return Sunday night after receiving a helmet-to-helmet kick from San Francisco 49ers player Dre Greenlaw.
Officials fired Greenlaw for the hit, which delivered a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness. Herbert briefly left the match before being allowed to return after the break.
“He’s fine,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley told NBC.
The hit occurred late in the second quarter as Herbert was scrambling. Fred Warner dealt with Herbert from behind. Greenlaw leaned in for a blow in front of Herbert and made direct contact with Herbert’s head with the crown of his helmet when Herbert fell on the grass, twisting Herbert’s head to the side.
Herbert stood up after the blow, seemingly intent on staying in the game. The officials then consulted with each other before announcing the punishment and expelling Greenlaw. Herbert eventually left to the sideline and was replaced by backup Chase Daniel in the last 30 seconds of the half.
Herbert stayed on the sidelines with his helmet raised during the inning, and the Charger took a 16-10 lead in the first inning. He returned to lead the Chargers’ first possession after the break.
The 49ers eventually won, 22-16, by closing the Charger in the second half as Herbert finished 21 from 35 for 196 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Should Greenlaw have been expelled?
NBC analyst Terry Macaulay reports that he has spoken with the NFL’s office and that executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent has considered the decision to fire Greenlaw.
“We heard from New York, and they decided – Troy Vincent decided – that the player lowered his head and made blatant forced contact with the head of the opponent,” Macaulay said.
Macaulay did not agree with the decision to expel Greenlaw, arguing that he did not believe Greenlaw had intended to contact Herbert’s head.
“For the sake of disqualification, you want to see a player do something unnecessary, some try to punish the opponent,” Macaulay said. “I feel like he’s trying to drive with his shoulder – the variable height of the runner being handled led to the forced content on the head.
“You could say it’s wrong. I don’t think it should be blatant and unqualified.”
NBC’s Melissa Stark reported that she spoke with 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan about the decision. Bear Stark, understood the punishment but “used a lot of insults” about his expulsion.
“It kind of surprised me,” Shanahan said after the match. via Jake Hutchinson from KNBR. “I got it on penalties, because he hit his helmet…but I thought there had to be intent and something superfluous.
“I was shocked to lose Greenlaw the whole game.”
The quarterback’s safety has always been a focus in the NFL, and it’s been on the rise this season after Miami Dolphins quarterback Toa Tagovailoa was hospitalized in week four after a second hit to the head in as many weeks against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Herbert was considered a runner in the play and lost the extra protection given to the quarterback in the pocket. McAulay reports that the NFL told him that Herbert’s quarterback status was not a factor in the decision to fire Greenlaw.
“Any runner at that point would have been treated the same way,” Macaulay said, paraphrasing the NFL Bureau.
Greenlow is a fourth-year rookie after joining 49 rookie players in 2019. He entered Sunday’s game as second on the team with 58 tackles.
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