Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
That we had two events in Sunday’s NFL games—a player being removed because an injury spotter thought he saw him wobbly/shaky after a hit, and a hugely ticky-tack roughing-the-passer call—that really weren’t connected but seem connected by the jittery approach to concussions and player safety that has exploded in the last two weeks.
Could the spotter and the ref who made the phantom roughing call both have been erring on the side of extreme caution? That’s sure how it looked to me.
“I thought of it too,” former NFL VP of officiating Dean Blandino said Sunday night. “Are we being overly sensitive because of the Tua Tagovailoa situation?”
The line of the night came from a longtime NFL executive. “What’s that thing you guys in the media do every week after the games?” he said. “Overreaction Monday? As a league, I think today was Overreaction Sunday.”
I still don’t know the real story of Miami quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s removal from the Dolphins’ game at the Jets after one offensive snap. In the irony of ironies, Bridgewater, Tagovailoa’s backup, was tackled hard on Miami’s first play and left the game for the locker room. He never returned. We were told the injury spotter in the press box saw in Bridgewater some ataxia; the QB was somehow unstable, per the spotter. In accord with the 20-hour-old NFL rule about motor instability—the rule that came into effect at 5 p.m. ET Saturday—Bridgewater was ruled out for the game. Maybe Bridgewater did stumble, but we never saw it. The Dolphins never saw it. CBS replays never showed it. ESPN reported he passed all concussion tests, but it didn’t matter. Bridgewater, after one snap, was finished.
And then, with three minutes left in a 21-15 game in Tampa, on a simple sack by Atlanta’s Grady Jarrett of Tom Brady, referee Jerome Boger called roughing on Jarrett. The video of Atlanta coach Arthur Smith was perfect—eyes wide open in horror, mouth agape, hands to his head. All I could think was, The league is headed for flag football if that’s a penalty. “If you can’t tackle the quarterback,” Tony Dungy said on NBC Sunday night, “it’s going to be impossible to play defense.”
I've seen a lot of #NFL football in my life, but someone is going to have to explain this roughing the passer call in the @AtlantaFalcons / @Buccaneers game. I'm not sure I've seen anything quite like this pic.twitter.com/YvmekNYxG2
— Scott Pioli (@scottpioli51) October 9, 2022
Another former official told me Sunday night: “Officials aren’t immune from what’s going on in public, and of course they’re following the Tua story. But I can’t imagine making a call, or not making one, because of a situation like [the Tagovailoa story] hanging over the game.”
The roughing call was stunning because Boger’s a good official, and because officials are told to have situational awareness. Don’t decide the game on a ticky-tack call. The Tagovailoa mistake—allowing him back in a game after he struggled to stand twice and had to be helped off the field—shouldn’t be over-corrected by either of the calls that happened Sunday. If Bridgewater really was woozy, then let’s see some evidence from the spotter or from a CBS replay. The NFL has to be transparent here. And we need to hear from the league on the Boger call, because it was huge in the Falcons losing a game that could have given them first place in the NFC South.
Saturday’s agreement by the league and union making it law that players will be removed from games if they demonstrate wooziness or unsteadiness is a positive step. It should be applauded. But there’s a physicality to the game that must be allowed to happen. You can’t officiate scared, or make rulings from on high based on something you might have seen. Sunday was a weird day. The league can’t afford many more of them.