It's perfectly understandable, really. Umpire Bruce Stritesky had more important things on his mind than the Rams' 1st and goal, already up 10-0. He still hasn't seen "Inception" yet, and all his friends have seen it twice, at least. Is it really that good? Head linesman Tom Stabile was still fuming about those liberal apologists on that morning's "Meet the Press," when Sam Bradford took the snap and dropped back to scan the field. In the end zone, referee Scott Green was also scanning the field, on "Dougie patrol," watching for players who look like they might be about to celebrate something. Side judge Larry Rose simply could not get Usher's "Oh My God" out of his head, and wasn't paying attention when the play broke down and Bradford scrambled to his left. Back judge Scott Helverson was busy watching the out of town scoreboard, waiting for Jay Cutler to make a play for his fantasy team, when the Chargers' linebacker Kevin Burnett started streaking toward the Rams QB. Line judge Tom Barnes was dutifully watching the goal line directly beneath his feet as Barnett left his feet, and Bradford turtled his head, anticipating contact.
"Oh, is the play over now? I guess I should blow the whistle or something. Say youngster, where did your helmet get to?"
Given the complexities of day to day life, and the nature of the economy and whatnot, we really can't expect these referees to be on every call of every game. Especially these games that don't really matter much. I mean, Rams/Chargers? Who even is watching this? Right?
Wrong. Not only should Barnett anticipate a massive fine for this textbook display of "how to lead with your helmet," each of these referees should be fined a game check and face suspensions for willfully ignoring an obvious personal foul. If they can't bother to show up and do their jobs, they should not be on the field. Period.
One thing we learned -- the hard way -- is that Bradford is not only a tough sonuvabitch, but he never goes crying to the refs for flags. Even when it's clearly deserved. Jacob Bell came hustling over to his quarterback after the play, looking frantically into his eyes for signs of distress. Bradford, already standing, spat derisively to the turf, got his helmet and got ready for the next play.
Two plays later, somebody in stripes woke up and flagged the Chargers for "roughing the passer" as Bradford was piledrived lightly planted into the turf, extending the drive. Two plays after that, Steven Jackson plowed forward for a seven-yard touchdown, and Bradford finally got to sit down and clear the cobwebs out.
We laud the Rams for showing fight, toughness, and resiliency throughout this young season. but not only are they fighting the other team, they're fighting a league full of lazy and incompetent refs who are all to happy to keep their flags in their pockets when the Rams' opponents are involved.
Update: Full text of the applicable NFL rule.
Chris at Blog And Tackle posted the full text of the NFL's rulebook, as applies to helmet hits, which is much more verbose than the "digest" version that is made publicly available to fans. Here's the explicit rule that was applied (or not, as the case may be) in this situation. (Emphasis is mine.)
(f) If a player uses any part of his helmet (including the top/crown and forehead/”hairline” parts) or facemask to butt, spear, or ram an opponent violently or unnecessarily. Although such violent or unnecessary use of the helmet and facemask is impermissible against any opponent, game officials will give special attention in administering this rule to protecting those players who are in virtually defenseless postures, including but not limited to:
... (3) “Launching” (springing forward and upward) into a defenseless player, or otherwise striking him in a way that causes the defensive player’s helmet or facemask to forcibly strike the defenseless player’s head, neck, or face—even if the initial contact of the defender’s helmet or facemask is lower than the defenseless player’s neck. (Examples: a defender buries his facemask into a defenseless player’s high chest area, but the defender’s trajectory as he leaps into the defenseless player causes the defender’s helmet to strike the defenseless player violently in the head or face...).
... Note: Defenseless players in (f) and (g) shall include (i) a player in the act of or just after throwing a pass; (ii) a receiver catching or attempting to catch a pass; (iii) a runner already in the grasp of a tackler and whose forward progress has been stopped; (iv) a kickoff or punt returner attempting to field a kick in the air; and (v) a player on the ground at the end of a play.
@RamsHerd The helmet-to-helmet hit on Bradford was not a penalty. Bradford made himself a runner and was hit in the same way RBs get hit.
If I understand the reading of the rule, launching yourself in this way could be flagged against any ball carrier, but the officials have been instructed to "emphasize" the rule in the case of "defenseless" players. Hence the blind eye turned ... but the sheer violence of the play most likely did prompt the roughing the passer call two plays later, which extended the drive long enough for the Rams to get a touchdown.
Was justice served, in a roundabout way? Possibly, yes. But more importantly, Bradford and Rams fans are lucky he had the foresight to tuck into and absorb the hit, and wasn't seriously hurt on the play.