It took less than five minutes, a mere 11 plays from scrimmage into the Hall of Fame Game, for the first lowering-the-helmet flag to fly in. And, after two correctly-called penalties on the Ravens, as expected, several controversial flags were thrown in the second half.
Baltimore Ravens LBs Patrick Onwuasor and Kamalei Correa were Baltimore's early culprits, and both transgressions seemed fairly obvious. Chicago Bears RB Benny Cunningham's momentum had been stopped by Ravens LB Andy Levine, and that's when Onwuasor came to clean up the play. But he did so with his helmet down, not seeing what he was attempting to hit.
Correa delivered a helmet-to-helmet hit on Bears WR Tanner Gentry, another clear violation of the rule, both before and after this offseason's enhancements.
The new NFL rule states that "it is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent. Contact does not have to be to an opponent's head or neck area — lowering the head and initiating contact to an opponent's torso, hips, and lower body, is also a foul."
Onwuasor not only came in high on Cunningham, but he also initiated contact with his helmet — a clear foul, perhaps even before the NFL's enhanced policy. Similar deal with Correa.
Those hits wouldn't be grounds for possible ejection (we don't think), but similar ones are likely to be called with great regularity until players learn to hit only what they can see.
But only minutes into the third quarter, Bears S Nick Orr attempted to dislodge the ball from Ravens TE Hayden Hurst, who went up in the air for a would-be touchdown from Lamar Jackson. Orr succeeded ... or so we thought. Then came the laundry ... then the irate fans ... then the confusion.
See, Orr was officially flagged for unnecessary roughness, not lowering of the helmet, but it didn't matter. Bloodthirsty football fans came out in droves on Twitter to attack the new rule, which everyone expects will ruin the game.
Except if the game mattered, the incorrect call would've been a game-changer, as Baltimore went from what would've been 3rd-and-13 from the Chicago 15 to first-and-goal from the Bears' 8-yard line and scored on the very next play.
It didn't end there.
In the fourth quarter, another defensive back, Baltimore's Bennett Jackson, lit up another tight end, Chicago's Daniel Brown, in the middle of the field. Unlike the first two Ravens' infractions, both correctly deemed to be illegal lowering of the helmet, this one was again ruled unnecessary roughness. And it was again ruled improperly, as Jackson made a good, clean hit using his shoulder to take out Brown.
These kind of mistakes were already being made last season as the NFL ramps up its attempts to remove violence from an inherently violent game. Except now, fans are watching more critically in light of the rule changes and the lines are blurred even more on what exactly defenders are supposed to do.
It's a mess, not unlike the Catch rule. Here's to hoping, as some have predicted, that the officials are flag-frenzied now, when the games don't count, to try and find some semblance of how to legislate the new rules.
We won't hold our breath.