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It was a wide-open game
Almost once a game, an NFL player absorbs an illegal blow to the head or neck that could put his career — or worse — at risk. Joe Torre Jersey . The NFL has been trying to prevent such blows over the past four years, targeting improper technique and making a point to penalize and fine players for hits that leave them and their opponents vulnerable. Yet an Associated Press review of penalties through the first 11 weeks of the season found those hits are still prevalent. The AP reviewed 549 penalties, 491 of which fell under the category of major infractions: unnecessary roughness, unsportsmanlike conduct, roughing the passer, face masks and roughing the quarterback. Of the penalties charted over the first 162 games of the season, the AP identified 156 involving contact with the head and neck — an average of .962 per game. Of those, 38 were for head-wrenching face masks, 25 were for horse collars and 93 were for hits to the head. Quarterbacks (40) and receivers (38) shared the brunt of those hits almost equally, with players at other positions absorbing the other 15 blows. The numbers can be interpreted a variety of ways. The league declined comment, though it made a statement of sorts in the off-season when it decided against the 5 per cent hike in minimum fines, as allowed for in the union contract, after determining players were adjusting to the rules. A sentiment among the players the AP spoke to on offence was that they appreciate all the NFL has done to protect them. But, in the words of Titans running back Chris Johnson, they know that "sometimes you just cant control where you hit somebody." Defensive players acknowledged they have to do their part to make the game safer. "The face mask, thats going to happen. The pass interference, those things are going to happen. The stupid fouls, hitting the quarterbacks late and doing all the other stuff weve done, we have to eliminate it," said Titans safety Bernard Pollard, who has been fined $62,000 this season. But the defenders also reiterated a long-held belief that theyre held to a different standard than their offensive counterparts. "No doubt," Packers cornerback Tramon Williams said. "Guys are still getting penalized for clean shots, getting fined for clean shots, and theres no other explanation to it. Just like theyre holding us accountable for trying to make that right hit, theyve got to hold themselves accountable for making the right calls on the field, and making the right decision on who to fine and how much to fine." True to the defenders complaints, the AP review tallied 224 major infractions against the defence, with only 69 going against the offence. Similarly, penalties for low hits, which many thought would rise when defenders were forced to focus away from the head and neck, were relatively low — only 35. That small number included illegal cuts, chop and peelback blocks against the offence for hits on defenders — penalties the defensive players argue are called far too rarely and put their careers at as much risk as the above-the-shoulder hits. "The way offences are playing now and the way running backs block now, I think its almost every play," Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said when asked how often a defensive players legs get targeted. New England tight end Rob Gronkowskis season ended abruptly Sunday with a knee injury when he took a low hit from Cleveland safety T.J. Ward. No penalty was called. Ward said he knows he cant go for the high hit. "But we have to play this game," Ward said. "We have to play it the way that they force us to, and unfortunately, it incurred an injury for him." Of the 35 penalties for low hits, 10 came against the defence for hits to the quarterbacks. The leagues propensity for protecting the passer continues at almost every spot on the field. Over the first 11 weeks, there were 32 flags for infractions against quarterbacks that didnt involve hits to the head or legs — for example, a late hit on a sliding quarterback. The NFL still makes a big splash out of suspensions and fines levied under the umbrella of protecting players. Ndamukong Suh, a multiple offender, got a $100,000 fine — largest in league history for on-field conduct — for his Week 2 low block on John Sullivan of the Vikings during an interception return. More recently, Titans safety Michael Griffin served a one-game suspension for a low hit on Oakland tight end Mychal Rivera. When asked what he could have done differently, Griffin said a league official "told me theres no clear black-and-white answer." "You have to start thinking about how youre going to hit the guy when you get there," Titans coach Mike Munchak said. "I think its very, very hard, very difficult. It definitely is necessary. I think it has helped the game in that way. But I think youve got to be careful in how these guys are fined and things like that going forward." Whatever the mixed messages, the NFL appears satisfied with the way players are adjusting to the rules, given the leagues decision not to raise fine amounts. Total fines issued by the NFL have declined by 32 per cent from 2009 to 2012 (668 to 451) and also decreased 4.5 per cent between 2011 and 2012 (472 to 451). Fines for illegal hits on quarterbacks have declined 46.4 per cent since 2009 (114 to 61). All of which points to a safer game — but a game that nevertheless, at least on average, puts at least one player in jeopardy in every game in every stadium every Thursday, Sunday and Monday. "Its a warrior game," said Broncos defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, on injured reserve after suffering a dislocated hip on a play in which four players took turns blocking him, both high and low. "Youre going to have collisions. Youre going to have those injuries. You just try to do the best you can with them and play within the rules they set." ___ AP Sports Writers Genaro Armas in Green Bay, Wisc., Teresa Walker in Nashville, Tenn., Tom Withers in Cleveland, Joe Kay in Cincinnati and Joseph White in Washington contributed to this report. J. D. Davis Jersey . -- LeGarrette Blount wasnt satisfied with three short touchdown runs, not against a team coming off the second greatest comeback in playoff history. Tug McGraw Jersey . While coach Doc Rivers high-fived fans and pumped his fist at the crowd, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul quietly congratulated each other. . A last-minute leveler ensured the two-time defending champion remained nine points ahead of Roma, which drew 0-0 at bitter rival Lazio in the capital derby.BARCELONA, Spain -- Elche beat Celta Vigo 1-0 thanks to midfielder Javi Marquezs solo effort to claim its first win in Spains top flight in 25 years on Sunday. Also, Real Betis dealt Villarreal its first loss this season with a 1-0 home win, Levantes late goal gave it a 1-0 victory at Osasuna, and Getafe striker Adrian Colunga scored twice as it beat Espanyol 2-0. While neither team shone at Celtas Balaidos Stadium, Elche went close through Manuel del Morals high strike just before the halftime whistle. Marquez then broke the deadlock on a counterattack in the 62nd minute. His low shot from an angle while on the run sent the ball in off the far post. Elche earned promotion last season, making its long-awaited return to the first division where it had gone winless through six rounds to start this campaign. "My team deserved this win," said Elche coach Francisco Escriba. "In this league there are 10-12 teams on a very similar level and its strange that games between them are decided in another way. The sensation I have is that my team is playing well." Betis got its second win of the season from a combination of midfielder Emmanuel "Nosa" Igiebors 36th-minute winner and some dogged defending that stifled Villarreals previously potent attack. Nosa charged in to hammer home a rebound off a shot by Joan Verdu that had been parried by goalie Sergio Asenjo. "Its a shame we couldnt get something from the times when we broke into their area," Villarreal coach Marcelino Garcia said. "Im satisfied with my teams effort, annoyed by the result, but to lose your first game in the seventh round... There are different ways to lose and losing this way hurts less." Villarreals first defeat left it in fourth place, two points behind Real Madrid in third. Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are annother five points ahead at the top of the standings. Mookie Wilson Jersey. . Levante looked ready to settle for a draw in Pamplona when midfielder Jordi Xumetra netted in the 87th following a penalty. Osasuna goalkeeper Andres Fernandez blocked Papakouly Diops spot kick, but Xumetra raced in to slot home the rebound. Osasuna dominated the first half but failed to capitalize, with striker Oriol Riera squandering two good chances. Levante improved in the second half with Simao Mates header finding the crossbar before Osasunas Jordan Loties fouled Ruben Garcia in the area with three minutes to play. Osasuna finished with 10 men when Alvaro Cejudo received a second yellow card in injury time. Under new coach Joaquin Caparros, Levante has two wins, four draws and only one loss to start the season. Osasuna was left with one win and six losses. "It was a wide-open game, and we both had clear chances," said Xumetra. "But we took the points at the end from a penalty that we were lucky enough to put in." Colunga opened the scoring at Espanyol in the 73rd minute for Getafe when he took substitute Pablo Sarabias throughball and fired it past goalkeeper Kiko Casillas into the corner of the net. Espanyol searched for the equalizer but could not convert its 14 corners, Joan Capdevila and Hector Moreno going the closest with headers. Colunga added his second goal in stoppage time to seal Getafes first away win of the season. It was Getafes third win in four matches, while Espanyol has now lost two straight after starting the season unbeaten in its first five games. "A miscue cost us the first goal and later arrived the nerves, the desperation and the heroics," said Espanyol manager Javier Aguirre. "We lacked clarity. The 2-0 is too much of a punishment, but we cant let it bring us down." ' ' '

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