Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka failed to wrap up Titans quarterback Vince Young on a fourth down that would have essentially ended a game in Tennessee, and Packers defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins was called for a ridiculous roughing the passer penalty on Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck that extended a crucial drive in a close game at Seattle.
Because of the manner in which the Giants and Packers lost, both plays have raised a big question. Has the NFL gone too far in protecting quarterbacks? After this weekend, it would definitely seem so.
Yes, the NFL is full of judgment calls by officials. Those calls sometimes define games. Such calls, however, are subject to investigation by the league, and often, rules are altered to limit the chances of such errors happening in the future. While band-aids like replay challenges can help correct mistakes, there is no uniformity when it comes to hits on a quarterback. Protecting players differently at a position which is the most marketable and profitable for the league is unfair to the others that play the game.
Take, for example, a player like Jenkins. The third-year veteran worked his tail off just to earn a roster spot, then works even harder on game day when he gets a chance, and for his efforts, he earns money that pales in comparison to others around the league. When he tried to do the right thing on Monday night – let up on Hasselbeck just after Hasselbeck released the ball – Green Bay's defense was penalized 15 yards because an official thought he either saw helmet-to-helmet contact or arm-to-helmet contact. Either way, the official's job should be to judge the defender's intent, not such disputable contact which happens in a fraction of a second and cannot be reviewed. In the back of that official's mind, though, he has been trained to protect the quarterback at all costs, so he makes what he thinks is the right call.
While the league's increased rules and regulations on hits to the quarterback may be good in theory, the increased attention has only caused more uncertainty. Such was the case when Kiwanuka thought he had Young in the grasp for a sack, only to let him go. Kiwanuka said he thought Young had already thrown the ball and instead of bringing him to the ground and risking a roughing the passer penalty on fourth-and-10, he let him go. Young escaped for a 19-yard gain and a first down, continuing a game-tying touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter. The Giants blew a 21-0 lead in the fourth quarter and lost 24-21.
Kiwanuka's roughing the passer penalty just three weeks prior against the Texans may have been partially on his mind when he let Young go. The same can be said for Jenkins, who saw teammate Aaron Kampman called for a borderline roughing the passer call against the Dolphins on Oct. 22. Like Kampman, Jenkins clearly was trying to let up on the play, but his intent was overshadowed by contact perceived to be harmful to Hasselbeck.
Jenkins was unavailable for comment on Wednesday after practice, but McCarthy again addressed the penalty that gave the Seahawks a first down and eventually the game-clinching touchdown drive. He sees the grey area with how the penalty is determined.
"Shoot, as far as specifics of how they can clear it up, that's something that I think the intent is appropriate and sometimes when you do that it clouds the judgment of the call," said McCarthy. "I just think it's something that in the off-season, I think the league office does an excellent job of trying to get it right. There will be studies and indicators trying to clear it up, but I don't know exactly what those indicators will be as far as what the referees are looking for, but I'm sure they'll have a better solution next time around."
The NFL's proactive nature in dealing with such controversies suggests they will come up with a solution, but it does not appear to be a clear or easy one. Until then, quarterbacks will be getting the benefit of the doubt.
If one good thing came out of last weekend's situations with Kiwanuka and Jenkins, it will be the NFL looking to change how the quarterback is protected. That, at least, is a step in the right direction.
Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at email@example.com.