Analysis: NFL can’t find elusive sweet spot to protect QBs
One week, the NFL is getting blasted for not taking care of its quarterbacks. The next, it’s being lambasted for treating them like they’re crystal.
Tua Tagovailoa’s return to the field after stumbling to the sideline two weeks ago set in motion the midseason modification of the league’s concussion policies, and the first one restrained by the stricter rules in Week 5 was none other than his backup.
On his first snap of Miami’s 40-17 loss to the Jets on Sunday, Teddy Bridgewater was popped in the chest by a blitzer on his first snap.
Although Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said afterward that Bridgewater passed all tests and displayed no concussion symptoms, a spotter saw him stumble after the play, so he was removed as a result of the revised policy.
Then came Grady Jarrett’s textbook sack of Tom Brady on Sunday and Chris Jones’ strip sack of Derek Carr on Monday night, both of which were nullified by debatable calls that sent current and former NFL personnel into a Twitter frenzy.
In Tampa, Jarrett was penalized for taking down Brady in the fourth quarter, a ruling that helped the Buccaneers run out the clock and fend off the Falcons 21-15. It was the second straight week referee Jerome Boger made the critical call late in the game on a play that didn’t seem to warrant a flag.
A week earlier, Boger’s roughing call helped the Buffalo Bills on a drive that ended with Tyler Bass kicking a 21-yard field goal as time expired to beat the Baltimore Ravens 23-20.
“What I had was the defender grabbed the quarterback while he was still in the pocket, and unnecessarily throwing him to the ground,” Boger told a pool reporter after the Bucs-Falcons game.
Jarrett’s hit was nothing like Bengals 340-pound defensive tackle Josh Tupou’s hit on Tagovailoa in Week 4 when he grabbed the quarterback and threw him backward, slamming Tagovailoa’s head into the ground. Tagovailoa was stretchered off the field and hospitalized.
Tupou wasn’t penalized for sacking Tagovailoa. Neither Josh Allen nor Brady were injured on the hits Boger called roughing.
Nor was Carr injured when referee Carl Cheffer’s crew called roughing on Jones, who wrested the ball from Carr as they tumbled to the turf.
Cheffer explained to a pool reporter after the Chiefs’ 30-29 win over the Raiders that he whistled Jones for landing on Carr “with full body weight.” Cheffers said the fumble was irrelevant because the QB “still gets passing protection until he can defend himself.”
Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy disagreed with the call.
“This is not football anymore,” tweeted Dungy, who called out the NFL last week after Bucs tight end Cameron Brate was allowed to re-enter a game despite suffering a concussion.
“I know we have to protect the QB but Chris Jones was recovering a fumble,” added Dungy. “We have gotten ridiculous with this.”
Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons complained that the NFL wants every game to be like the no-tackle affairs the Pro Bowl has become in recent years, adding, “Change the rules or just make the league 7 on 7!!”
Former Seattle star Richard Sherman tweeted, “Imagine when they decide a playoff game with one of the Roughing calls. Cannot brace the fall when one hand is holding the football! Bad.”
The criticism was just as strong Sunday after Brady benefitted from the problematic penalty called by Boger.
“It’s just not a foul,” said former NFL head of officials Dean Blandino of “The 33rd Team.
“Grady, he just wraps up Tom Brady, takes him to the ground. There wasn’t anything additional. He didn’t lift and drive him to the ground, there were no body weight, there wasn’t anything head/neck area, at the knee area or below,” Blandino said. “It just doesn’t fit into any bucket of roughing the passer.”
Dungy said on NBC’s “Football Night in America” pregame show after Jarrett’s roughing call that the erroneous roughing calls have to be addressed by the league office.
“If you cannot tackle the quarterback,” Dungy said, “it’s going to be impossible to play defense.”
Robert Griffin III tweeted: “The Falcons got ROBBED. Hitting the QB hard does not equal Roughing the Passer even if it’s Tom Brady.”
In Tagovailoa’s case, the NFL acted quickly for safety’s sake to close a loophole in its concussion policy.
Especially at a time the league has embraced legalized gambling, if it doesn’t move just as swiftly to reexamine its roughing the passer benchmarks and make such calls reviewable it could very well be the league’s integrity that takes the next big hit.
AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi contributed to this report.