The NFL recognizes that Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Jordan Whitehead should have been penalized for a hit on Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield on Sunday, a source familiar with the league's thinking said Tuesday.
Whitehead could have been flagged for one of two infractions: unnecessary roughness for a hit to the head of a sliding player or unsportsmanlike conduct for using his helmet to hit a player, the source said.
The hit occurred in the Bucs' 26-23 overtime win on Sunday. Mayfield slid at the end of a 35-yard run on second-and-26 in the fourth quarter. Shortly after Mayfield's knee hit the ground, Whitehead's helmet hit the side of Mayfield's head.
Officials initially flagged the play, but after a conference, referee Shawn Hochuli announced that the flag would be picked up.
When Mayfield started to slide is a judgment call; hits to the head are not. Sliding players are protected by league rule from hits to the head. The league knows the penalty should have been called, according to a source.
Browns coach Hue Jackson said after the game that he did not understand why the flag was picked up. Other players complained. On Monday, Jackson said the team would ask the league for clarification.
Mayfield is going to take his fair share of hits. You hope these penalties are called the first time around, thereby detracting others from trying to hit the Browns savior.