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More than a century after the NFL started playing games that count, fans and players alike still have no idea what constitutes roughing the passer. The oft-talked about and loosely-defined penalty wasted little time wedging its way into the brains of fans across the country, courtesy of a Za’Darius Smith love tap on Saints quarterback Jameis Winston.
Might be the worst roughing the passer call in league history pic.twitter.com/tqNTQveDB1
— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) September 12, 2021
Nearing the end of the third quarter of a 38-3 loss to New Orleans, Smith was penalized for roughing the passer after sending Winston to the turf. The flag negated a Packers interception and set the Saints up to score two plays later.
As replays showed, Smith did not “target” Winston, lead with his head, or land on top of the QB. The Green Bay linebacker finished the play in seemingly textbook fashion, rolling to the side in the opposite direction of Winston. Yet, he was still flagged.
Smith’s penalty left plenty confused.
Za'Darius Smith, roughing the passer, simply for hitting Jameis Winston hard. Honestly, not sure what else he's supposed to do there. He has free rush, hits Winston hard but clean, makes an absolute play. That's what he's paid for.
No clue what else Smith is supposed to do.
— Ryan Wood (@ByRyanWood) September 12, 2021
That was one of the worst mistakes on roughing the passer that I’ve ever seen. The Clay Matthews ones included. Smith went in with shoulder, avoided head contact and didn’t land on top of the QB.
— Kevin Seifert (@SeifertESPN) September 12, 2021
This is just the latest example of the league’s overprotection of offensive players, especially the quarterback. Buccaneers QB Tom Brady said as much earlier this month: “And now, every hard hit is a penalty on the defense. So I feel like they penalize defensive players for offensive mistakes.”
“The defensive player comes in and hits him hard and they throw a flag on the defense.”
Following the game, Packers coach Matt LaFleur bit his tongue when asked what he thought of the call. Instead, he responded rhetorically: “Are you trying to get me in trouble?”
This week marked the NFL’s 102nd season. Maybe by the 103rd, we’ll have an idea of how to properly hit a quarterback.