KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The NFL has a problem on its hands, and must quickly figure out this balancing act being tested in real time.
The league wants to make the game of football safer for its players, and that’s the single most important standard it should continue to uphold. But decisive plays where rule changes and interpretations affect game situations and potentially outcomes are not getting the proper reviews they need to protect the integrity of the game and the product on the field for all parties involved.
Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones was penalized for roughing the passer after falling on top of Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr just before halftime during their game on “Monday Night Football.”
Carr was in the process of winding up for a pass when the ball was dropped to the ground as a fumble. Jones reached for the football and secured it while falling on top of Carr on the way to the ground.
The penalty allowed the Raiders to kick a field goal to take a 20-10 lead into halftime, increasing the deficit the Chiefs ultimately overcame in a 30-29 win on GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.
Follow every game: Live NFL Scores
But the biggest takeaway from Monday’s game: The NFL had another controversial moment during primetime it must account for with its players and coaches, ticket-paying fans and viewers at home consuming their product.
NFL newsletter:Sign up now to get football news delivered to your inbox
NFL Week 5 winners and losers:Cowboys, Eagles set up huge NFC East showdown next week
32 things we learned from Week 5:New York, New York on the rise
“There’s no need for an explanation,” Jones said postgame when asked if he consulted head referee Carl Cheffers after the game. “What should I say?” How should I tackle? How should I not roll on him? I’m 325 pounds, okay? What do you want me to do?
After the game, Cheffers reiterated that the penalty was called because Jones landed on Carr with his full body weight. Despite the ball being loose, Carr still affords full protection quarterbacks get while in the passing posture. The play was also not reviewed by the league office in New York during the game.
“The fact the ball came out and was subsequently recovered by the defense is not relevant as far as the protection the quarterback gets,” Cheffers said.
The NFL’s roughing the passer penalty has come under scrutiny this week since future Hall of Famer Tom Brady had one called in his favor in a win against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. And the situation in the Raiders-Chiefs game only magnifies the challenge the NFL faces.
Falcons defender Grady Jarrett was practically sitting on the field when he pulled Brady to the ground in what many believed was a routine tackle, before referees penalized him for the play.
Jones was adamant the NFL should review roughing the passer penalty calls to prevent situations that occurred in both games, while Carr took the high road discussing the situation after the game.
“If we’re going to continue to call roughing the passer [that much]we have to be able to review it in the booth and make sure,” Jones said.
“Sometimes looks can be deceiving. From a ref’s point of view, it probably looked like that initially. But when you look at the replay, it’s a whole different thing.”
Added Carr: “Whether it was Tom’s this week or mine tonight, I don’t know if it matters whether we agree on it. There are certain rules. They thought he landed on me, and that’s part of the rule. Chris made a great play on a three-man rush.”
During the third quarter, Chiefs fans irate over the Jones penalty gave officials an earful after Raiders linebacker Denzel Perryman brought down Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the same fashion Brady was tackled.
During the first quarter, Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark sacked Carr one play after Raiders edge rusher Maxx Crosby got a sack on Mahomes to end Kansas City’s first drive.
The similarity in both plays: Neither quarterback was brought to the ground. Instead, both were wrapped up and hugged by the defender. And the play was called dead.
It appeared the new NFL was on full display.
Well, not new, necessarily. It’s been a rule or custom for referees to call a play dead when any player is wrapped up without making forward progress.
The sequence in this game showed defenders are paying attention and don’t want to incur senseless penalties to give offenses the upper hand.
But sequences like Jones’ penalty shows the NFL has plenty of future conversations it must have to prevent referees from turning traditional rulings players and coaches and fans have become accustomed to into controversial calls that can swing the pendulum during games.
“It’s something where you obviously want to protect the players in all aspects of the game. But at the same time, there’s a common-sense factor where guys are playing football and trying to win football games,” Mahomes said.
“Whenever it’s blatant and they do something dirty to try to hurt someone, you want to make sure that’s called. But at the same time, you don’t want it to affect the football game and change the outcome.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid was unusually angry on the sidelines after the game, and wanted no part in commenting further on the situation after the game.
Reid was adamant he made his peace with the penalty call with the referee on the field.
“I understand protecting the quarterback. It’s important. It is important. There’s a fine line. We have to sort that out,” Reid said.
“[The referees] work their butt off to do a good job for us out here. And the league spends time doing it, and looking at it. But sometimes there’s a point where you have to let guys play, and we just have to find where that happy medium is.”