Tampa, Fla. — When Quandre Diggs saw the flag, and heard the ruling he was being penalized for unnecessary roughness against a defenseless receiver, the Lions defensive back initial concern was his bank account.
“First thing that goes through my mind is that’s 50 racks, gone,” Diggs said. “I told the ref, ‘Y’all trying to take all my check.’”
As Tampa Bay Bucs tight end O.J. Howard hauled in a pass deep across the middle of the field, Diggs squared and delivered a thunderous blow, dislodging the ball. The initial ruling was an incomplete pass, that Howard hadn’t established himself as a runner.
Hitting a defenseless receiver in the head or neck area carries a fine of $24,309 for a first offense and $48,620 for a second offense. Diggs makes $36,176 per game, before taxes, and had already been assessed a defenseless receiver fine this season, against Pittsburgh tight end Jesse James.
But the Lions were able to challenge the play, arguing Howard had established possession and wasn’t defenseless. Replay reviews confirmed and not only was the flag against Diggs rescinded, but the incomplete pass was changed to a fumble, which the Lions had recovered.
Lions coach Jim Caldwell said he’d never seen that call successfully challenged, but Diggs was thrilled.
“I knew I didn’t hit him in the chest or the face-area,” Diggs said. “I kind of aimed for the ball. I knew it was kind of a bogus call, but they got it fixed and that’s what great referee crews do, they get things fixed.”
The game against Tampa Bay was Diggs’ second at safety, after playing most of his first three seasons as the team’s slot cornerback. The coaching staff have credited his football IQ for easing the transition, but the jobs have clear differences, especially when it comes to making tackles.
Diggs said he’s learning on the fly the nuances of controlling the way he hits in the open field, so as to not draw penalties and fines.
“At nickel, it’s always shoot your shot, and I always shot my shot at nickel,” he said. “At safety, you kind of have to gather yourself more and watch what you’re hitting. I’m learning.”
In addition to forcing the fumble, Diggs also had his first career interception in the victory.