FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles will be hearing referees’ whistles in their sleep Friday night.
As has been the trend throughout the NFL preseason, Friday’s tilt at Gillette Stadium was bogged down by an incessant cascade of flags as the league implements new regulations aimed at protecting pass catchers and limiting hits to the head.
Twenty-one total penalties were assessed during the Patriots 42-35 win (10 for Philadelphia, 11 for New England), not counting those that offset or were declined. After the game, players on both sides chalked up the preponderance of fouls to a necessary period of adjustment.
“It’s a new rule in 2014 that they’re emphasizing about illegal contact down the field on plays with the wide receiver and the defensive backs,” Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis said. “Like I said before, we have to do the best that we can by being comfortable with the new rules and trying to do the right things out there on the field.”
All teams were shown an instructional video during training camp detailing the new rules and emphases, and the Patriots and Eagles had referees work their joint practice sessions this week to give players an idea of which plays now will result in penalties that might not have before.
“It’s just what the emphasis is. We have to deal with it,” Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington said. “It was going both ways, so it’s not really my job to discuss the flags. (I) just have to play ball. We have refs at practice, so we are practicing on the game situations. … That’s what the refs are there for. They’ll call it exactly as they would in a game. … It’s something that we are working on in practice, so I’m sure you’ll see the results in the game.”
Defensive backs aren’t the only players subject to greater scrutiny. Linemen — on both sides of the ball — were whistled for illegal use of the hands a total of eight times, and Patriots guard Marcus Cannon was called for an illegal roll block. Referees have been told to keep a close eye out for both infractions this season.
“They are emphasizing a bunch of stuff this year, and we have to play off of that,” Eagles offensive tackle Jason Peters said. “The calls aren’t going to stop. We have to adjust our play.”
That sentiment was echoed by Eagles head coach Chip Kelly, who isn’t using the notion of a learning curve as an excuse for racking up double-digit penalties.
“No, there is no curve,” he said. “Those are the rules, and we’ve got to play by them. And whoever ends up being the most disciplined team in this league is going to win, but the rule is not going to change. … I don’t think on tomorrow or Sunday, (commissioner) Roger (Goodell) 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.”