Washington Redskins free safety Brandon Meriweather's dangerous habit of leading with his helmet will cost him two games, the latest sanction from a league determined to make the game safer by discouraging blows to the head.
The NFL announced Monday that Meriweather will be suspended for this week's game against the Denver Broncos and the following game against the San Diego Chargers, a severe blow to a struggling defense as the Redskins try to recover from their poor start to the season.
Meriweather has the right to appeal. If he does, an expedited hearing will be held this week and a ruling issued before the Broncos game.
He was flagged twice for hits on defenseless receivers in Sunday's 45-41 win over the Chicago Bears, in the third quarter for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Alshon Jeffery in the fourth quarter for a helmet-first hit to the head and neck area of Brandon Marshall.
In announcing the suspension, the league cited Meriweather's status as a repeat offender. He was fined $42,000 for a helmet-first hit on Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy in Week 2, forcing Lacy out of the game with a concussion. Later in that same game, another helmet-first hit left Meriweather with a concussion, knocking him out of the game.
The two-game suspension will cost Meriweather $141,176 in salary. He will not be allowed to participate in any football activities with the team during the suspension.
Meriweather said after Sunday'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."
Coach Mike Shanahan said earlier Monday that he didn't think Meriweather would be suspended.
"I think he knows exactly what he has to do," Shanahan said. "And sometimes the intent — there's no intent there — sometimes you hit a guy a little bit higher than anticipated. Even the last one, he came to the sideline and says, 'Hey, one guy told me it was a good hit and the other official told me he saw it differently.' So there's a lot of different interpretations of it, and at the end of the day we'll find out."
The suspension could leave the Redskins without their two starting safeties when they face Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Strong safety Reed Doughty suffered a concussion Sunday when the Bears attempted an onside kick in the fourth quarter. He will have to pass the league's required tests before he can be cleared to play next week at Denver.
The Redskins are already thin at safety. Rookie Phillip Thomas was lost for the season with an injury during training camp, and rookie Bacarri Rambo lost his starting job after struggling in the first two games.
The only other safeties on the roster are Jose Gumbs, who has played in two NFL games, and Trenton Robinson, who was signed last week.
Washington is ranked 24th in the NFL against the pass and gave up 24 second-half points Sunday against a backup quarterback.
Shanahan was asked how he would manage if he doesn't have Meriweather and Doughty.
"Not a whole lot you can do about it," Shanahan said, "except prepare the best way you can."
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org
By JOSEPH WHITE, AP Sports Writer
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