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Illegal Contact Penalties Are Way Up

Players, Coaches Just Looking for Some Consistency

By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 25, 2004; Page D03

A few minutes after the Packers' 28-25 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday, Green Bay cornerback Al Harris stood at his Lambeau Field locker, a little angry and very much confused. He had been called for pass interference or making illegal contact with a Jacksonville receiver three times during the game, and he still wasn't exactly sure why.

"It was getting to the point where you can't play," Harris, a seven-year veteran, told reporters. "Referees are only human, but it's getting to the point where someone's got to be held accountable. Basically, they take you out of what you learned from day one . . . What are we supposed to do as defenders?"

Cowboys cornerback Nathan Jones (33) and other NFL defensive backs are unhappy with the increased number of illegal contact flags this season. (Ted S. Warren -- AP)

_____Oakland at Kansas City_____

• Time: 5 p.m.

• TV: WUSA-9, WJZ-13.

• Records: Raiders 5-9, Chiefs 6-8.

• Last Meeting: Chiefs beat Raiders, 34-27, on Dec. 5 at Oakland.

• Last Week: Raiders beat Titans, 40-35. Chiefs beat Broncos, 45-17.

• Key Matchup: Raiders middle linebacker Danny Clark vs. Chiefs running back Larry Johnson. Last week, Johnson had 151 yards on 30 carries and two touchdowns. Johnson, a 2003 first-round pick, has run for more than 100 yards in each of his last three games and scored five times. Clark leads the Raiders with 114 tackles, but the Raiders allow 130 yards rushing per game and have given up 18 rushing touchdowns, second most in the league.

• Game Notes: According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Chiefs are the first team in NFL history with three backs rushing for 150 yards in different games in one season. Johnson, Priest Holmes and Derrick Blaylock have done it. . . . Raiders defensive backs Charles Woodson and Marques Anderson were arrested for public intoxication early Monday. Anderson practiced Tuesday, but Woodson was held out because of a knee injury and is doubtful. . . . The last time the Chiefs played on Christmas was in the 1971 playoffs, when they lost to the Dolphins in the longest NFL game ever (82 minutes 40 seconds).

-- From News Services

_____Denver at Tennessee_____

• Time: 8:30 p.m.


• Records: Broncos 8-6, Titans 4-10.

• Last Meeting: Houston Oilers beat Broncos, 42-33, on Nov. 26, 1995, at Houston.

• Last Week: Broncos lost to Chiefs, 45-17. Titans lost to Raiders, 40-35.

• Key Matchup: Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer vs. Titans cornerback Andre Dyson. Plummer has thrown eight interceptions and only one touchdown in the last three games. He threw for 292 yards with two interceptions last week. Dyson leads the Titans with five interceptions, including one against the Colts' Peyton Manning a few weeks ago. Plummer is tied for the NFL lead with 19 interceptions and will need to keep passes away from Dyson to keep the Broncos in the playoff hunt.

• Game Notes: The Broncos are the only NFL club that rank among the top 10 in the six main offensive and defensive categories. . . . Titans quarterback Billy Volek had the second-best passing day in franchise history last week with 492 yards and four touchdowns. In the last two weeks, he has thrown for more than 900 yards and eight touchdowns in two losses. . . . Titans wide receiver Derrick Mason leads the NFL with 88 receptions. He has 1,055 yards.

-- From News Services

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_____Mark Maske's NFL Insider_____
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_____Jaguars Basics_____
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All around the NFL this season, defensive backs are unhappy about a rule prohibiting contact with a receiver five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. The rule, on the books since 1978, became a point of emphasis for game officials this season, mandated by the league's competition committee and approved by a majority of team owners last March. The penalty is five yards, with an automatic first down.

Through Week 14, game officials had called 164 illegal contact penalties, up dramatically from the 66 whistled through Week 14 of the 2003 season. Mike Pereira, the league's director of officiating, said there also has been a slight spike up in illegal contact calls in the last three weeks, a trend he attributes to contending teams doing whatever it takes in their drive to earn a playoff spot.

"When you get to this point of the season, a lot more is at stake," Pereira said. "When you see it rise in week 12, 13 and 14, it makes sense that teams may have tried to resort to their old tactics and hope they don't get called for it. We're at crunch time now, and maybe teams are playing it the way they did in the past."

Scoring is up to 43.1 points a game, the fourth-highest total in 37 years and an increase over last year's 41.7 points a game. Total yardage is up by 20 yards per game over last season, to 656.1 yards. Passing yardage is up by 23 yards a game to 423.3 yards, the fifth-highest total in league history.

The average gain per pass completion is up, and so are touchdown passes. At this time last year, there were 5.21 completions per game of more than 20 yards; this year it's 5.82, a 12-percent increase. Pass completions of more than 40 yards a game are up by 22.5 percent, from .89 per game last season to 1.09 this year.

Meantime, Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning, who plays at home Sunday against San Diego, is one touchdown pass short of tying Dan Marino's record of 48 set in 1984. He also has 4,168 passing yards, 916 yards short of matching Marino's mark of 5,084.

According to the league, in the season Marino set those records, game officials also were operating with a point of emphasis on the illegal contact rule.

Still, despite increases in all those offensive numbers, Perreira and Rich McKay, co-chairman of the Competition Committee and general manager of the Atlanta Falcons, said they're satisfied that the heightened officiating scrutiny on illegal contact is working exactly the way the committee expected. The statistical jumps are not significantly out of whack, they indicated, and the game has hardly been re-invented despite the complaints of many defensive backs, as well as some disgruntled head coaches.

"My response to the players is that we're playing the game by the rules," Pereira said. "I didn't write the rules, but our officials are enforcing them. The illegal contact rule was written to create balance between the offense and the defense. We became a little lax over the years in getting our guys to officiate it, and that's probably my fault. But we're calling it the way it's supposed to be called. It's up to them to adjust to it."

Washington's Joe Gibbs wasn't at all pleased about several calls on Redskins defenders in his team's victory over San Francisco last Saturday.

"I don't think they're calling it very much except on us, and it's more than 50 yards. I can almost count on it," he said. "So far I think we've had, what, five that shouldn't have been called, and they were called. I'm still looking for the one for us. I'm just going to keep throwing it deep and sooner or later maybe we'll get two or three. That's just my opinion and I'll probably get fined for it. . . . It's certainly not like how they talked about calling it."

Baltimore's Brian Billick also was upset over four illegal contact calls in one series against Ravens defenders, including two on veteran cornerback Deion Sanders, in his team's loss to Indianapolis last Sunday night.

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