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Macho Harris: Victim or Vacuum?

I knew I'd find that logon and password information eventually. Welcome back, Post Patterns.

Have gotten a good deal of mail and encouraging messages since writing a column for the Monday Inquirer about the Eagles' proclivity for taking penalties in general, and about the potentially disastrous one taken Sunday against Denver by rookie safety Macho Harris.

The YouTube of the hit on Denver tight end Tony Scheffler is embedded below, and I'm reposting the great still taken by Inquirer photographer Ron Cortes as Harris was knocking Scheffler out of the play and very nearly out of the Eastern time zone.

OK, what of it? Many of you feel that: a) the official blew the call, assessing the Eagles with an unnecessary roughness penalty when Harris was within his rights to lay out Scheffler after the Asante Samuel interception; b) hey, this is supposed to be tackle football; c) anyone who criticizes Harris for this hit must prefer ballet; and d) E-A-G-L-E-S.

All of that has some merit, but overlooks the fact that the Eagles were penalized on the play, lost about 40 yards in field position and might have ended up losing the game for what was, like it or not, an unnecessary hit, even if it was technically legal (meaning he didn't lead with his helmet or project himself through the air to deliver it).

The point you might be missing is that NFL officials aren't always very good, particularly the side judge and the field judge who operate downfield along the sidelines. The league has instructed the officials to protect defenseless players and have made a priority of it this season. If you are a safety in the NFL, this information should be in your head. If you are pursuing a play, see an interception made and want to separate the receiver from a chance of making the tackle, you do not have to risk a penalty by knocking him into next week. Harris, with the angle he had, could have just continued his momentum and pushed the guy out of the play. No call, big return.

It isn't about being right, in this case. It is about not getting the penalty. I'll use the rickety bridge analogy and then you can have at it. If you are driving your car and come to a very rickety bridge, and decide to drive across anyway, if you should plunge into the gorge below, technically, yes, it is the fault of the bridge. But it wouldn't have happened if you didn't do something dumb.

The official might have over-reacted. It was borderline, and maybe Harris shouldn't have been flagged. But he was, and that means it was a dumb play. Because he didn't have to do that, to achieve the same strategic goal. It was unnecessary. And that's what the official called.