Every Sunday Has Been Flag Day

The penalty-prone Packers are on pace to break two dubious records set during the Forrest Gregg era. "Our players don't play outside the rules," coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday. "To answer your question, I don't think we're not disciplined."

The yellow leaves of autumn weren't the only things flying on Sunday.

The Packers were hit with 13 penalties against the Lions, a number so high that there are rumors the officiating crew had to see a physical therapist on Monday for fear of suffering repetitive stress disorders from repeatedly reaching for and throwing their flags.

From holding on the opening kickoff to a false start on the second offensive play from scrimmage to veteran left tackle Chad Clifton's inability to line up correctly or get off on the proper snap count, the Packers were hit with a ridiculous 13 penalties for 130 yards.

Only eight times in franchise history have the Packers been penalized more often in a game — including just once in the last 22 years. Five of the top eight games came in 1986 and 1987, when Forrest Gregg was coach.

Those Gregg teams were horribly undisciplined. Coach Mike McCarthy, however, doesn't see this team in that light, even though this year's team is on pace for 138 penalties for 1,149 yards, which would beat Gregg's 1987 totals of 135 penalties for 1,103 yards.

"Our players don't play outside the rules," McCarthy said on Monday. "I don't see our players trying to play outside the rules to gain an advantage. To answer your question, I don't think we're not disciplined."

Facts are facts, though. The Packers rank fifth in the NFL in accepted penalties with 43, but in terms of penalties per game, they top the dubious list with 8.6. They also rank first in penalty yards per game with 71.8.

It's the continuation of a trend. Last year, Green Bay ranked second in penalties (110; sixth-most in franchise history) and first in yards (984; fourth in team history). In 2007, the Packers ranked fourth in penalties and second in yards. Compare that to McCarthy's first season, when they ranked 20th in penalties and 25th in yards in 2006.

The breakdown on Sunday had seven penalties on the offense, four on the special teams and two on the defense.

The offensive penalties — or lack thereof — were one of the bright spots from the loss at Minnesota. After fullback John Kuhn was flagged for holding and right tackle Allen Barbre for a false start on the opening series, the offense wasn't penalized for the rest of the night. That was an impressive feat in such a hostile environment.

No such luck against the lousy Lions.

"It's disappointing," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said with a shake of the head on Sunday. "It's slowing us down and putting us in a lot of … again, the same old tune. Hopefully, we can figure it out. I'm not sure. I kind of wish I had a better answer."

Four of the infractions were on Clifton, who hadn't played since spraining an ankle against Cincinnati a month ago. Those pre-snap penalties — Josh Sitton was flagged for a false start on the second play from scrimmage — are the ones that really draw the ire of McCarthy.

"They're totally unacceptable," McCarthy said. "I don't care who you are, what time of the game or so forth. You cannot play like that."

Asked if Clifton maybe wasn't feeling up to par and was trying to skirt the rules to gain an advantage, offensive line coach James Campen offered no excuses.

"He's got to get up on the ball," Campen said on Monday. "They're going to call it if you're too far back, and he was too far back. Obviously, it's the right call. We've had a few problems with him years back and got that corrected. Maybe since he hasn't played in a while, but certainly there's no excuse whatsoever. You have to line up correctly."

At every practice, whether it's offseason, training camp or the regular season, the Packers have officials. During training camp, players who commit a pre-snap penalty are removed from the lineup for a short time. During the regular season, however, pulling out a starter could be akin to cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Nonetheless, McCarthy said he's considered doing just that during games "recently."

The other penalties on offense were for unnecessary roughness. Daryn Colledge was flagged on the second drive after Donald Driver was gang-tackled at (and after) the whistle. Driver was flagged in the fourth quarter after leveling a Lions defensive lineman just a split-second after Aaron Rodgers slid to the turf after a 10-yard scramble.

"The ref told me that because Donald was moving backwards, that they were whistling it dead," Colledge said. "But they continued to pile guys up on Donald and I hadn't heard a whistle, so my job is to get those guys off. I'm not going to allow a defensive player to pile eight guys on one of our best players. That's just taking a chance. I'll take that."

Campen, who started 42 games at center for the Packers, couldn't comment on Colledge's penalty because the game film doesn't include the sound of the whistle. While he wouldn't excuse Colledge's actions, he certainly understood, as did Philbin.

"Penalties aren't all right," Campen said. "As far as going down and helping one of your eyes, absolutely. As long as it's within the rules, absolutely."

The defense committed two penalties, including a tame illegal-contact flag on nickel corner Tramon Williams. The special teams were flagged four times, including holding on Evan Dietrich-Smith that cost Jordy Nelson a touchdown on the opening kickoff.

"I thought it was a legitimate call," special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said. "You can go through there and scrutinize any particular play. There were plays in that game that I wish they would've called another way. There were some no-calls that would have been legitimate calls had they been called. So, the officials are part of the game. They have to see things. A lot of time, it is their judgment."

With two-plus seasons of celebrating Flag Day every Sunday, it's hard to imagine the Packers can reverse the trend.

"Everybody's in this thing together," Philbin said. "It doesn't reflect certainly on me as a coach and it doesn't reflect well on the player."

Added Slocum: "It makes me sick."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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