NFL Rules Under Scrutiny Following Controversial “Roughing the Passer” Calls 

By: John Welch

The National Football League (NFL) is taking heat yet again for a pair of controversial roughing the passer calls during week five of the 2022 season.  

After dealing with concussion protocol criticism following the injury of Miami Dolphins’ quarterback Tua Tagovailoa earlier this year, the league has once again landed in hot water surrounding its rules and procedures, this time because of its roughing the passer rulings. 

The first call came against Atlanta Falcons’ defensive tackle Grady Jarrett on a hit against Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ quarterback Tom Brady. The second was called on Kansas City Chiefs’ defensive lineman Chris Jones for a hit on Las Vegas Raiders’ quarterback Derek Carr. 

The Atlanta Falcons clawed their way back from a twenty-one-point deficit during their game against their division rivals, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After trailing 21-0 entering the fourth quarter, the Falcons cut the lead to six thanks to a pair of scores from running-back Avery Williams and wide-receiver Olamide Zaccheaus. 

With three minutes remaining, Jarrett made what he and most fans thought was a textbook sack against Brady on a third-down play behind the Buccaneers forty-five-yard line. After the play was over, referee Jerome Boger threw a flag and declared roughing the passer against Jarrett. 

“What I had was the defender grabbed the quarterback while he was still in the pocket, and unnecessarily [threw] him to the ground,” said Boger. “That is what I was making my decision based upon.” 

This call gave the Buccaneers an automatic first-down which allowed them to coast the rest of the game to a 21-15 win. What was most likely a game-changing play was completely erased as a result of poor officiating, something that has seemed to become a staple of NFL referees this season. 

Just over twenty-four hours later, the second questionable roughing the passer call was made against Kansas City’s Chris Jones during their primetime showdown against division rival Las Vegas Raiders.  

With about a minute remaining in the first half, Kansas City was trailing the Raiders 17-7 when Jones sacked Las Vegas quarterback Derek Carr from behind. In addition to the sack, he also forced a fumble which he easily recovered mid-sack, in what he thought would be a crucial game-turning moment. 

However, the play was scratched after referee Carl Cheffers ruled a roughing the passer foul against Jones. Although Kansas City would go on to win the matchup 30-29, Jones was rightfully frustrated with the call, which he expressed during a post-game media conference. 

“We [have] to be able to view it in the booth now,” said Jones. “I think that’s the next step for the NFL as a whole. If we’re going to continue calling roughing the passer at that high of a velocity, we [have] to be able to view it in the booth to make sure. Sometimes, looks can be deceiving. From the referee’s point of view, it probably looked like [roughing the passer] initially, but when you look at replay it’s a whole different thing.” 

In response to outrage from the NFL community, the league office sent a video to all thirty-two teams on Wednesday regarding the controversial calls. During the video, NFL senior V.P. of officiating administration Perry Fewell defended the call made by Cheffers. 

“The Kansas City defender executes his rush plan in his effort to rush the quarterback,” Fewell said. “He lands with his full body weight on the drive to the ground. A quarterback in the pocket, in a passing posture, gets full protection until he can protect himself. This was a properly called foul for roughing the passer.” 

In what should have been a moment for the league to correctly assess the quality of officiating by their own referees, as well as a moment to change the rules, they once again proved that they are too busy to prioritize the most important issues that are apparent for everyone to see. 

Hopefully, these outrageous rulings don’t appear for the rest of the season, and if they do, hopefully the NFL has the courage to speak up. However, judging by their attitude in previous weeks, we won’t be seeing any revisions to the rule book regarding roughing the passer anytime soon.

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