Tight end Tony Gonzalez #88 of the Atlanta Falcons says Houston Texans rookie safety D.J. Swearinger should be fined for his knee-crumpling hit on Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller.
(Photo: Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images)
Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez says there is no place for the career-threatening hit Houston Texans rookie safety D.J. Swearinger delivered in Saturday night's preseason game that shredded Miami Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller's knee.
And Gonzalez said he is further incensed with the notion that recent rules changes -- outlawing hits to the head area -- have forced defenders to target the knees when tackling. When asked about the controversial play, Gonzalez didn't hold back.
"That was ridiculous on his part. It should be a fineable offense. That's just not part of football -- hitting a defenseless player in his knee, that's something we all dread as players. That's my nightmare,'' Gonzalez told USA TODAY Sports. "Hit me in my head (instead).
"Any player who does that, I don't like it at all. I have no respect for that."
He added: "Dustin Keller is a friend of mine and you just ruined a guy's career because you went low and at his knee like that. You never go at a guy's knee. Never.''
Keller, the former New York Jets tight end who signed a one-year, $4.25 million deal this offseason, tore the anterior cruciate, medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments in his right knee and also dislocated the knee. Keller caught a pass with his back to Swearinger, and just as Keller turned upfield, Swearinger took him out at the knee caps.
"With the rules in this era, you've got to hit low,'' Swearinger said afterward. "If I would have hit him high, I would have gotten a fine. So I think I made the smartest play. I'm sorry it happened. Right now, it's just instinct. You see somebody come across the middle, you've got to go low. You're going to cost your team 15 yards. You've got to play within the rules.''
There was no penalty on the play and the NFL hasn't levied a fine.
But Gonzalez, who abruptly ended his brief retirement in March to return to the Atlanta Falcons for a 17th season, doesn't believe the knee-crumpling hit should be given a pass as an unintended consequence of rules protecting players' heads.
"I saw his (Swearinger's) remark, 'That's just football,' and he showed a little bit of grief for the guy - I'm not buying it at all,'' Gonzalez said. "Don't tell me that the rules prohibit you from hitting a guy up top. You have a whole target area above his knee up to his neck that you can hit. I've watched that play a bunch of times.
"I'd rather have a guy hit me head than knife at my knee. You're talking about a career-ending injury. It's going to be so hard for Dustin to come back off of that. It should be a fineable offense, just like going for the head is.
"If a guy is not looking and you go and knife at his knee like that - especially in a preseason game as well. It was upsetting,'' Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez hopes the hit proves to be a teaching moment for defenders and officials going forward.
"I just don't want defenders to be able to hide behind, 'Well, I can't hit high. I have to go low.' No, you don't,'' Gonzalez said. "That's not what the rule is saying at all. It's not saying to go low.
"I keep seeing the debate (on TV) and all these people saying, 'They're forcing defenders to go low.' No, they're not. That play was ridiculous. All you have to do is hit him right in his waist and knock him back."