Going into the fourth quarter down 21-0 is not the best strategy.
For most of the Atlanta Falcons’ Week 5 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they looked as overmatched as many expected them to be. The Falcons looked like their immediate future includes a top-five selection in the 2023 NFL Draft, while the Buccaneers will be very much in the running for a second Super-Bowl appearance in three seasons.
To be fair to the Falcons, they were without Kyle Pitts — who wasn’t getting enough targets when he was on the field — and the NFL’s fourth-leading rusher — Cordarrelle Patterson. Yet they still clawed their way back into the game in the final quarter. They scored 15 points, which included a two-point conversion.
There was just over three minutes remaining in the game when Grady Jarrett sacked Tom Brady on 3rd and 5. It was the type of tackle only capable of those with the strength of an NFL defensive lineman. Jarrett grabbed the 6-foot-4 Brady around the waist and flung him like an armful of clothes into a dryer. It wasn’t gentle, but he didn’t land on him, or make body-to-body contact in any way. Still, Jarrett was called for roughing the passer, granting the Buccaneers 15 yards and an automatic first down.
The penalty put the Buccaneers at the Falcons’ 32-yard-line as opposed to the other side of midfield, and the defense had only one timeout remaining.
Again, no one told the Falcons to put up a goose egg for three quarters. Even without two key contributors, these are still NFL-level players who showed they are capable of scoring points. After the Buccaneers’ touchdown on their first series of the second half, they didn’t score another point the rest of the day. Where was that effort in the first half?
That roughing the passer call was not the reason that the Falcons lost. They still would’ve had to go down the field against one of the best defenses in the league, score a touchdown and convert the extra point to win. But all of that being said, the sport ceases to be tackle football if Jarrett’s play is worthy of a penalty. Get rid of the pads, break out the flags, and fire all of the lineman. All you need is one nose tackle to count to four Mississippi before rushing the passer.
Lead official Jerome Boger actually said to the media, “What I had was the defender grabbed the quarterback while he was still in the pocket, and unnecessarily throwing him to the ground.”
So if Boger is officiating a game, defenders should treat it like an inter-squad scrimmage during training camp. They should imagine that the red stop sign jersey is on the quarterback and run after him with their hands up in the air, and make no contact.
This is the second week in a row Boger has made a call like this in a crucial moment. Late in the Buffalo Bills’ 23-20 victory against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 4, a roughing the passer call against the Ravens’ Brandon Stephens turned a 1st and 15 from the Ravens’ 41-yard-line to a 1st and 10 from the Ravens’ 26.
The call didn’t decide that game either. The Ravens allowed the Bills to drive to their 3-yard-line and kick a chip shot to win, but the referees’ job isn’t to act as an obstacle, it’s to enforce the rules.
Two consecutive weeks Boger has failed in massive moments, and made the game unnecessarily hard for the other team that is playing the game the way that the rules state it should be played. If he keeps tripping teams up like this, he might as well dress in green and change his title from lead official to turf monster.