Another Weak Roughing The Passer Call In Primetime Puts Rule Back In Spotlight

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It’s been quite a while since we’ve had a roughing the passer call controversy in the NFL. It’s been nice, but it also means that we have been way past due. Because of that, we got one on Sunday Night Football between the Dolphins and Chargers.

Dolphins pass rusher Jaelen Phillips sacked Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert on a third down play that should have forced Los Angeles to punt out of their own endzone.

Instead, the refs threw a very late flag on the tackle and called roughing the passer. Mike Tirico and Cris Collinsworth, on the call for NBC, seemed confused by the foul and suggested that maybe it was the “body weight” rule?

Basically, a defender must try to avoid landing on the quarterback when making a hit. That, as you can imagine, can be quite difficult at full speed while trying to bring down another grown man.

Even NBC rules analyst Terry McAulay — a former NFL referee himself — said he would not have called the penalty. Usually, the rules analysts come on to defend the referees. These are their brethren, after all.

So the fact that even McAulay couldn’t defend the call says a lot about it. Here is the play in question:

It sure looks like Phillips at least tried to put his hands down to brace himself somewhat. Plus, it raises the simple question: what is Phillips supposed to do here? This is a standard football tackle.

Dolphins DE Jaelen Phillips appears to brace himself but still gets called for roughing the passer on Sunday Night Football against the Chargers
Dolphins DE Jaelen Phillips appears to brace himself but still gets called for roughing the passer on Sunday Night Football against the Chargers. (screenshot: NBC Sports)

The broadcast crew brought up the idea of making these calls reviewable and McAuley stated that is unlikely because the NFL does not want subjective calls reviewed. Now, one could argue that all calls are subjective, but I digress.

Look, the last thing the NFL needs is more replay review. But at a certain point there has to be a way to fix this. College football review targeting calls. Yes, those calls involve an ejection, so they really need to be correct.

However, 15-yard penalties that come with automatic first downs are a big deal, too. Those plays have changed games. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won a game earlier this season on a similarly soft call.

There was also the play where Chiefs defender Chris Jones got called for roughing the passer while actually holding the football. That was a new one.

Then there was Giants Dexter Lawrence taking an egregious roughing call.

At some point, something has to give. C’mon NFL.

“Take off the dresses,” Troy Aikman said earlier this year.

Gotta agree with him there.


Follow Dan Zaksheske on Twitter: @OutkickDanZ

Written by Dan Zaksheske

Dan began his sports media career at ESPN, where he survived for nearly a decade. Once the Stockholm Syndrome cleared, he made his way to Outkick. He is secure enough in his masculinity to admit he is a cat-enthusiast with three cats, one of which is named “Brady” because his wife wishes she were married to Tom instead of him.

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