Penalty flags were everywhere in the NFL preseason Friday night. If anyone thought the league wasn’t serious about its promised officiating crackdown on clutching-and-grabbing tactics by pass defenders, think again.
[Related story: Crackdown could spur stat surge for quarterbacks]
There were 86 penalties for 702 yards in four preseason games league-wide Friday. That included a total of 32 penalties for 295 yards in the Titans-Saints game and 21 penalties for 169 yards in the Eagles-Patriots game.
“If you can’t play within the rules, you can’t play in this league,” Eagles Coach Chip Kelly said at his postgame news conference. “That’s just the bottom line. You’re just handing people first downs. We better figure it out. … Whichever team ends up being the most disciplined team from that standpoint is going to have a big advantage in this league. It’s a challenge to everybody. We all have to figure it out. That’s the deal.”
The Lions-Raiders game had 18 penalties for 139 yards, while the Chargers and Seahawks combined for 15 penalties for 99 yards.
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham received two 15-yard penalties for dunking the ball over the goal post to celebrate touchdowns, which was banned by the league this year. Graham and Coach Sean Payton appeared to exchange words on the sideline about it.
Of the 86 penalties Friday, 15 were for defensive holding or illegal contact, by unofficial count. That doesn’t include the total of 10 defensive holding and illegal contact calls that were declined, by unofficial count. The league made strict enforcement of illegal contact by defensive backs beyond five yards from the line of scrimmage and holding by pass defenders a point of officiating emphasis for this season.
“There were a lot of them,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said at his postgame news conference. Officials making training camp visits “stood up here in front of us and told us they were going to throw a lot of them, and they sure did. Who knows if it will continue. But they’re calling things pretty tight. Coach always says, ‘Do business as business is being done,’ so if they’re going to call it tight — you know, we got a few extra opportunities out of it. They got a few extra opportunities out of it. It’s going to be who plays the smartest, I guess.”
Teams must adjust by the regular season, Kelly said.
“Those are the rules and we’ve got to play by them,” Kelly said. “And whoever ends up being the most disciplined team in this league is going to win. But the rule is not going to change. And that’s what I told those guys in the locker room. I think we had 10 [penalties] and they had 11, and it seems like it’s like that overall. But I don’t think on tomorrow or Sunday, Roger [Goodell, the NFL commissioner] is going to say, ‘Hey we’re going to change it.’ We’ve got to learn to not get our hands in people’s faces, and we’ve got to understand that after five yards it’s illegal contact. And if you can’t play within the rules, you can’t play in this league.”