Bengals' Shawn Williams ejected for unnecessary roughness after hit on Andrew Luck

Cincinnati Bengals safety Shawn Williams was ejected Sunday for a hit to the helmet of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. For those keeping score at home, however, the penalty was for unnecessary roughness and not the NFL's new helmet rule that sowed chaos among players, coaches and fans during the preseason.

Williams was penalized for hitting Luck's head with his helmet on a third-down scramble. A league spokesman said the flag fell under the general classification of unnecessary roughness; Williams did not lower his helmet to initiate contact with Luck in the classic sense of the new rule.

Referees have the discretion to eject players whenever they determine that an unnecessary roughness hit is "flagrant," which is defined in the NFL rulebook as: "extremely objectionable, conspicuous, unnecessary, avoidable, or gratuitous."

Referee Pete Morelli announced the disqualification after a brief on-field discussion, and it was upheld by NFL senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron, who tweeted that he confirmed Morelli's decision to eject Williams.

The NFL has informed referees to make clear whether a penalty is for lowering the helmet, and Morelli did not mention it during his announcement. When a player is ejected for the helmet rule, it must meet the following standards:

  • The player delivering the blow had an unobstructed path to his opponent; and if 
  • The contact was clearly avoidable.