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Vikings' Andrew Sendejo back in NFL's cross hairs after second targeting penalty

Minnesota Vikings defensive back Andrew Sendejo (34) takes the field to warm up before the game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sept. 27, 2018. Jayne Kamin-Oncea / USA TODAY Sports

EAGAN, Minn. — Does Vikings coach Mike Zimmer think safety Andrew Sendejo is getting a reputation among NFL referees?

"Yeah," Zimmer said Monday, Oct. 8. "Probably."

Sendejo was penalized under the NFL's targeting rules for the second time in five games this season late in the Vikings' 23-21 victory over the Eagles in Philadelphia. Identified as a "repeat offender," Sendejo could be suspended for Sunday's noon kickoff against the Arizona Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Asked Monday if he expected a suspension, Sendejo said, "Uh, no."

Sendejo was suspended one game last season after a hit on then-Baltimore Ravens receiver Mike Wallace, his second such penalty that season. He also was fined $24,309 for a helmet hit on Tampa Bay tight end Cameron Brate in Week 3.

"These officials watch tape, too," Zimmer said. "I was talking to a lot of them before the (Eagles) game, and we were talking about some of the things the other team does, and I said, 'Do you have anything about us?' He said, 'Yeah, your one guy does this a lot.' It wasn't Sendejo, but it was someone else. So, they watch tape, too."

There's no question Sendejo is on the NFL's radar, and not just for his tackling style. During an Aug. 3 training camp practice, Sendejo wore a baseball cap featuring the motto, "Make football violent again." It was the same day the NFL had on-field officials address the new rules with Vikings players at TCO Performance Center.

Asked if he feels he's being targeted by officials, Sendejo said, "I don't know. I'm just out there playing ball."

Zimmer didn't think much about Sunday's penalty, assessed after Sendejo hit tight end Zach Ertz from behind after an incompletion in the end zone on Philadelphia's final drive.

"That wasn't, I mean, you can't, I don't know," Zimmer said Monday.

The NFL beefed up its rules on tackling during owners meetings in August. According to the 2018 NFL Rules book, "It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent." On Sunday, Sendejo did initiate helmet-to-helmet contact on Ertz.

The penalty, officially for unnecessary roughness, set the Eagles up first-and-goal from the 7-yard line, and Ertz caught a touchdown pass on the next play.

George Iloka didn't think much of the call, either. A six-year veteran who started 76 games with Cincinnati before signing a free-agent deal with Minnesota in August, Iloka said defensive players don't even talk about the new rules anymore.

"Why? Can't change it, why talk about it?" the 28-year-old safety said Monday. "What are you going to do?"

The NFL defines the defenseless player rule as "if a player initiates unnecessary contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture."

"I told Sendejo, 'I would do the same thing. Maybe hit him harder, if I could,' " Iloka said. "What are you going to do different? You're not going to let him catch the ball in front of you because of the rules.

"In situations like that, we're going to do what we're trained to do and do what comes naturally in this game of football. And if the refs want to make a call like that, I feel like it's not what football should be. That's on them, and we'll let fans keep complaining and hopefully they'll change it a little bit."

Sendejo was fined $53,482 for a penalized hit on Green Bay wide receiver Davante Adams in Week 2, double his previous fine from 2017. That could escalate again.

Said Sendejo: "All you can do is try to play by the rules and do the best you can."