On the eighth page of the 14-page comprehensive box score of the Eagles' 27-22 loss to the Redskins on Sunday, in italics one-third of the way down, appeared perhaps the most profound euphemism in NFL history.
PENALTY on WAS-D. Everett, Interference with Opportunity to Catch, 15 yards, enforced at PHI 25.
Well, that's one way to describe what happened to the Eagles' Darren Sproles when he tried to catch a punt with 11 minutes, 27 seconds left in regulation. Another way would be to say that the Redskins' Deshazor Everett arrived a tad early to tackle Sproles and did not appear inclined either to alter his path to Sproles or to decelerate as he completed his journey. Yet a third way would be to say that Everett damn near decapitated Sproles, that he delivered a gratuitous hit to the helmet of a defenseless player, that the 15-yard penalty he was assessed seemed even in the moment to be far too lenient, and that the league - if it wants to maintain any credibility in its ostensible attempts to deter head injuries - ought to suspend Everett for at least a game. At least.
"Horrible," one Eagles tight end, Trey Burton, said. "Really bad. One of the worst I've ever seen."
"I thought it was BS," another Eagles tight end, Zach Ertz, said. "Darren didn't have the ball, and the guy tried to take his head off."
A third Eagles tight end, Brent Celek, had been the victim of a previous personal foul by Everett, a blindside block on an Eagles punt early in the fourth quarter. But that shot was a soft wet kiss compared to what Everett did to Sproles. After remaining prone on the ground for several minutes, Sproles left the game and didn't return, presumably entering the league's concussion protocol, and it was a wonder just to see him walk to the sideline. In the immediate aftermath, left tackle Jason Peters and several of Sproles' teammates charged after Everett and nearly incited a brawl. But Peters had been ejected from a 2014 game against the Redskins after fighting defensive end Chris Baker, who had drilled then-quarterback Nick Foles. And this time, he pulled back.
"That was a cheap shot," Peters said of the Everett hit. "I wanted to do more. I just know I couldn't get thrown out of the game because we were down to our third or fourth tackle. If I had got thrown out, I don't know who'd play."
Everett defended himself by noting that Sproles never signaled for a fair catch, which would have compelled Everett and every other member of the Redskins' punt-coverage team to provide him a halo of space to field the kick. And in the most interesting aspect of the reaction to the hit, the members of the Eagles' offense generally agreed with Peters, that Everett had gone out of his way to crush Sproles when he shouldn't have, but a few Eagles defensive players were reluctant to suggest that the hit was dirty.
"That's what they were coached to do," cornerback Leodis McKelvin said. "When a returner gets his hands up toward the ball, it lets you know when the ball is coming in. That's when you want to take your shot."
"I don't see it as a cheap shot," defensive end Brandon Graham said. "Stuff happens in the game."
The explanation for that dichotomy is pretty simple: Offensive players usually get hit, and they want as much protection as possible. Defensive players usually do the hitting, and they want the freedom to deliver punishment without second-guessing themselves at the moment of truth. It's the most alluring aspect of football, the pure violence that's unleashed on every snap, but that eyeball-to-eyeball physicality doesn't apply here. Given the play's sequence of events, Everett's justification didn't make sense.
"I thought the ball was right there in front of me when I went for the tackle, but unfortunately it was not," Everett said. "The ball hit me in the back, as you can tell. Football is a split-second game, and unfortunately I did not make the right decision. But I was just giving my full effort to go out there and make the tackle."
Everett was right: The ball did land on his back, which means Sproles never touched it, which means it's impossible for Everett to have thought that the ball was in front of him. Unless Everett has eyes in the back of his head and was tracking the ball's flight from the instant punter Tress Way sent it skyward, he couldn't have seen it.
Had Sproles caught the ball, Everett would have been well within his rights to flatten him. Hell, he would have been delinquent if he hadn't. But returners often raise their hands to feign catching punts to try to deceive coverage teams, and those gunners and wedge-busters don't have carte blanche to destroy a return man just because it looks like he's fielding a punt.
"My condolences to him," Everett said, "and you never wish that to happen to anyone."
That half-apology is sure to be small comfort for Sproles. Something didn't just happen to him. Deshazor Everett made it happen. He crossed the line. He was the one responsible for those sickening minutes Sunday, when Darren Sproles lay on the field and didn't move, when a box score could never capture the true substance of a play that went beyond even football's intrinsic brutality, and he should be punished for it.