Whitehead was sent the locker room by officials after a quick scuffle with Patriots offensive lineman David Andrews. It ended with Whitehead open-hand slapping Andrews:
The Patriots scored on the drive to go up 17-10 and ended up winning 31-17.
The slap — which probably hurt Whitehead’s hand more than Andrews — unsurprisingly drew a penalty. But the ejection was criticized by NBC color commentator Cris Collinsworth as punishment that went too far. Former NFL official and NBC rules analyst Terry McAuley also disagreed with it:
The ejection of the Green Bay player in the first half completely redefines the definition of the word “flagrant”. An open hand shot to the face mask of an opponent has never been flagrant and never should be. #GBvsNE— Terry McAulay (@SNFRules) November 5, 2018
It didn’t help that the referee’s microphone wasn’t on during the announcement of the ejection. That led to confusion about why Whitehead was disqualified and who made the decision to remove him:
This year, @NFL officiating chief Al Riveron has the option of adding an ejection when a flag has already been thrown. Don’t know if that happened in this case, but it is worth remembering.— Kevin Seifert (@SeifertESPN) November 5, 2018
Riveron tweeted it wasn’t the NFL’s officiating office that decided to call for the ejection, but they did confirm it.
Bill Belichick thought it was more than a slap, which it wasn’t:
Belichick on WEEI: You just can’t go around punching people in the face— Mark Daniels (@MarkDanielsPJ) November 5, 2018
But the ejection isn’t that unprecedented for that kind of play.
Other players have been ejected on similar plays
Early in the 2017 season, the Packers were on the other side of a ticky-tack ejection. Seahawks defensive back Jeremy Lane got a little too aggressive during a scrap with Davante Adams and was disqualified:
Here’s another angle of Jeremy Lane getting ejected from the game for ‘throwing a punch’. He was escorted out by police. pic.twitter.com/48ctepsXT3— Def Pen Sports (@DefPenSports) September 10, 2017
Was the ejection of Whitehead a head scratcher? A little, but it wasn’t that far out of left field. Players probably shouldn’t hit other players in the helmet, whether it’s with an open hand or a closed fist.