It seems like not a week goes by in the NFL that there is not some kind of controversial call or ending to a game. This is nothing new; we all remember last year’s most controversial call, the Fail Mary, in the midst of the referees lockout and others from seasons ago when a Green Bay Packers defender and Seattle Seahawks receiver both came down with the ball in the end zone only to have one official indicate touchdown while another indicated an interception.
It was quite comical within the context of the season, and it made commissioner Roger Goodell look foolish and silly.
There was a controversial call Sunday near the end of the New Orleans Saints–San Francisco 49ers as well. With just over three minutes to play in regulation and the Saints down by three, Drew Brees was leading his team on a drive that was inside of San Francisco territory on third-and-two. Linebacker Ahmad Brooks got past his opponent, struck Brees and caused a sack-fumble.
Almost immediately there was a penalty flag thrown and Brooks was called for unnecessary roughness for a high hit on Brees for striking the neck area. Brooks, his fellow teammates and retired defensive players all across the world cried foul and complained that he had merely struck Brees’ chest.
In the NFL rule book, under Rule 12, Section 2, Article 9, it states that an unnecessary roughness penalty against a defenseless player includes:
“Forcibly hitting the defenseless player’s head or neck area with the helmet, facemask, forearm, or shoulder, regardless of whether the defensive player also uses his arms to tackle the defenseless player by encircling or grasping him.”
I can understand some of the clamoring that Brooks hit the very top of his chest because it is close. I’ll give them that much. I can also understand the complaints about how football today is softer, not as hard and easier for offensive players. Fine, whatever.
However, defensive players do not need to care for the rules, but they have to understand how they are going to be called. This is especially true in the wake of the concussion settlement between the NFL and thousands of former players. Penalties are not reviewable, so anything that looks like an egregious penalty is going to be called, especially a high hit.
Brooks was quoted afterwards saying, “Maybe the officials were for the Saints a little more than the 49ers.”
If they were, Corey White‘s interception in the first half would have rightfully been called down by contact before the fumble-touchback on his run to the end zone. Besides, San Francisco played pretty bad the whole game and were not able to accomplish a whole lot. New Orleans essentially kept the 49ers in the game by giving up three turnovers that never should have happened.
Turnovers should never happen, really, but the ones given up by New Orleans were just ridiculous — White’s fumble-touchback, Brees’ lazy lofting throw and Lance Moore dropping a punt. All stuff that normally does not happen.