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Neal’s hit on Fitzgerald was legal

Falcons safety Keanu Neal was not fined for a hit he made on Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

League fine letters arrive on Thursday and there was no mail for Neal.

Neal’s hit, which received a penalty in the 38-19 victory over the Cardinals on Sunday, was deemed legal by the league because Fitzgerald had turned into a runner and turned into the hit, according to a league official with knowledge of the review.

“I thought it was a clean play,” Neal told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday. “I didn’t get a fined for it.”

On second down-and 10 from Atlanta’s 14 with 5:24 left to play in the fourth quarter, Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer completed a pass to Fitzgerald. Neal and Jalen Collins swarmed and tackled Fitzgerald.

The refs tossed a flag and called unnecessary roughness penalty on Neal because his helmet and Fitzgerald’s collided.

“I saw him take a few steps and I was going in leading with my shoulder, aiming for the strike zone,” Neal said. “He obviously lowered his head and lowered his body which makes it difficult for me to lower mine’s in the heat of the battle.”

The referees just saw the hit in real time.

“That’s OK, we’d rather they err on the side of caution with that kind of play and throw the flag,” the league official said.

Neal understood why the refs threw the flag.

“It’s kind of bang, bang, but I was leading with my shoulder,” Neal said. “I was keeping my head out of it. He ducked down and the ref obviously heard the clash and assumed that we hit helmet to helmet because it was so bang-bang.”

Because of safety concerns and fines from the NFL from illegal hits, Falcons coach Dan Quinn stresses safe but effective tackling.

Against the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 13, Neal was fined $24,309 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Eagles’ wide receiver Jordan Matthews.

“We want to do it safely and we recognize that’s part of it so we try to teach that each week,” Quinn said. “We just try to educate the guys the very best we can to play as physical as we can and we know we want to do it in the parameters of the game. So we can play safely, not just with the opponent, but with ourselves as well.”

JuliaKate K. Culpepper contributed to this story.

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