KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The NFL’s roughing-the-passer rule, or at least how it’s applied in games, will remain under intense scrutiny after a controversial second-quarter call against Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones in Monday’s game against the rival Las Vegas Raiders on GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.
First, some context.
After Tampa Bay rebounded from its loss to Kansas City on Sunday against Atlanta, a controversial late-game roughing-the-passer penalty became the talk of the NFL world on Monday morning.
It was third-and-5 with around three minutes left and the Buccaneers had the ball near midfield.
Tom Brady dropped back and looked left as Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett grabbed him around the waist and flung him to the ground.
The play should have resulted in a punt, which would have given Atlanta the chance to win the game.
Instead, Jarrett was flagged for “unnecessarily” throwing Brady to the ground, according to umpire Jerome Boger.
One day later, Jones appeared to strip the ball from Raiders quarterback Derek Carr as he tried to move up in the pocket to avoid the rush.
Jones then dove on top of Carr to grab the loose football.
Referee Carl Cheffers called roughing the passer on the fumble recovery.
"The quarterback is in the pocket and he's in a passing posture," Cheffers said after the game. "He gets full protection of all the aspects of what we give the quarterback in a passing posture. So, when he was tackled, my ruling was the defender landed on him with his full body weight."
Landing on a QB with full body weight is roughing the passer and Cheffers said the fumble doesn't change that.
"The fact that the ball came out and was subsequently recovered by the defense is no relevant as far as the protection the quarterback gets," he said.
Cheffers' explanation is unlikely to satisfy Jones, who was understandably frustrated with the call even after the 30-29 win.
“Sometimes, looks can be deceiving,” Jones said. “From the ref’s point of view, it probably looked like that initially, but, when you look at the replay, it’s a whole different thing.”
Jones said he did everything he could to avoid landing on Carr and also braced himself to lessen the blow, but there's only so much a defensive player can do, though he didn’t try to plead his case to Cheffers.
“What am I going to go to him and say, ‘How should I tackle? How should I not roll on him?’” Jones said. “I’m trying my best. I’m 340 — 25 pounds, OK? What do you want me to do? I’m running full speed trying to get to the quarterback, I hit the ball, I braced my hands.”
Jones said the enforcement of the rule “is getting absurd,” given the call against Jarrett and himself on back-to-back day, and called for change.
“Roughing the passer, they’ve put such an emphasis on that, we’ve got to be able to review it in the booth now,” Jones said. “That’s the next step.”
He compared it to the change the NFL made four years ago for reviewing pass-interference calls after a blown call propelled the Los Angeles Rams past New Orleans in the NFC Championship Game.
Jones worries that a similar roughing-the-passer play with decide a postseason game down the road.
Cheffers said the NFL office was not involved with the decision, which certainly was more defensible based on the league's rules than the penalty on Jarrett, but that didn't stop fellow QB hounds from rushing to Jones' defense, including Lawrence Taylor and Micah Parsons.
Cmon man!!! You can’t call that…terrible— Lawrence ‘LT’ Taylor (@LT_56) October 11, 2022
They want us to play like we playing in the pro bowl!! 😂😂😂— Micah Parsons (@MicahhParsons11) October 11, 2022
"I thought he had the ball, but that's their job, so they do that," a diplomatic Kansas City coach Andy Reid said of the call.
He allowed that the play, which led Reid to an animated and angry reaction on the sideline, may have ignited his team.
"It's an emotional game," said Reid, who was asked about his reaction later in the postgame press conference. "You guys are trying to get me fined, and I'm not going there. I got it off my chest and he got it off his chest. He made the call he made and I got what I needed said."
The penalty against Jones negated the turnover and the Raiders eventually netted a 50-yard Daniel Carlson field goal four plays later for a 20-7 lead with 17 seconds left before halftime.
With the Arrowhead crowd chanting “Ref, you suck” in full throat, replacement kicker Matthew Wright atoned for a first-quarter miss with a 59-yard field goal at the halftime horn — the longest field goal in Chiefs history, drawing Kansas City within 20-10 at the break.
Oddly, the call may have helped rally the defense.
“I think it energized the atmosphere (and) I think it energized the team that we got one taken from us,” Chiefs safety Justin Reid said. “... I understand what the officials are trying to do, make the game a safer game for quarterbacks, but that was just an unfortunate situation."
Andy Reid said he's on several NFL committees and understand the league's focus on protecting the quarterback. He also praised the job the referees do.
"But sometimes there's a point where you've got to let guys play," Reid said. "We've got to find where that happy medium is."