The Dallas Cowboys were facing a crucial third-and-20 on Sunday afternoon against the Cincinnati Bengals. They were trailing the Bengals 19-10 late in the third quarter, looking at a seemingly insurmountable third-and-long.
However, the Cowboys looked to have overcome those odds to get a drive-prolonging first down. Quarterback Tony Romo dropped a perfect pass into the hands of Dez Bryant down the right sideline.
The Cowboys receiver looked poised to haul it in, gain the first down and resuscitate the dying drive. Cincinnati safety Reggie Nelson had other plans, though. He came from his position to lay the boom on Bryant, delivering what was a textbook, although bone-jarring, hit on Bryant. The crushing blow sent the ball skyward before it fell harmlessly to the ground. The Cowboys would have to punt.
That, however, is when a little yellow penalty flag came flying in. The Nelson hit on Bryant, which is how you want your players to play the game, had been flagged for a personal foul. With that came an automatic first down, taking any potential momentum from the Bengals. The Cowboys weren’t able to capitalize, but they would eventually win the game on a last-second field goal.
See the play and call in question below.
As you might imagine, the Bengals were none too pleased with the call.
“I thought it was a great target and probably one that will be on their [NFL] teaching reel of how to do it,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said, according to Cincinnati.com. “Reggie’s done a good job with those things. He was on their teaching reel last year, and I thought that one was picture-perfect.”
Nelson also defended himself.
“That’s what [defensive coordinator Mike] Zimmer teaches us — to go low and not aim for anybody’s head,” Nelson said. “I think I did a good job of taking that teaching.”
That’s actually a pretty calm way of disputing the call, especially given how bad it actually was. Defensive players simply can’t do their job anymore. The genesis of the crackdown on illegal hits makes all the sense in the world — the NFL needs to protect its players, especially given all the recent revelations in relation to head injuries. But they apparently need to do a better job of defining, and just as importantly enforcing, those rules.
Nelson’s hit was as picture-perfect as they come. He leads with his shoulder, not his head. He makes contact with Bryant’s sternum and shoulders, not his head. Nelson doesn’t launch himself at Bryant — he just runs through him. Bryant even has a split-second to brace himself for impact, which seems to indicate he wasn’t defenseless, either.
Making matters worse is the fact that the flag comes in from an official who is away from the play. The side judge on the right sideline has a perfect view of the play, about 10 yards away. He sees Bryant right in front of him, and he can obviously see that Nelson doesn’t deliver a helmet-to-helmet hit. He immediately comes down the sideline waving his arms, signaling an incomplete pass. The flag, however, comes flying in from the middle of the field toward the back of the secondary — from the back judge. He’s running backwards, away from the play, and doesn’t appear to have a very good view of the play. He wasn’t about to let that get in the way of him throwing his flag, though.
The inconsistencies surrounding these types of hits are on display every Sunday. The NFL continues to flub it up when it comes to these types of hits, not to mention pass interference calls, as both have become coin flips.
We may not know what a penalty is anymore, but what is incredibly evident, especially in wake of this horrible call on Sunday, is that it’s becoming more and more difficult to play good, clean, hard-nosed football on the defensive side of the ball.