New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, left, talks with officials during the first half of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019, in Seattle. (Photo: AP)
Tom Brady has clout, and his indignation may have saved the NFL’s 100th season from being ruined by the refs even though he backtracked like he was avoiding Shaq Barrett.
Yellow flags flew at an alarming rate over the first two weeks of the season, and Shawn Hochuli’s crew called 20 infractions Thursday night in the Titans-Jaguars game — starting on the very first play from scrimmage — that kicked off Week 3.
With 15 flags thrown in the first half, eight of them for offensive holding, Brady said he’d seen enough and was turning off the game.
By the time the Bears bamboozled Case Keenum into five turnovers Monday night, officials were throwing half as many flags for offensive holding as they had been before the weekend.
The NFL made backside offensive holding a point of emphasis this season, asking officials to flag what’s known as a “lobster block” where O-linemen wrap their arms around a defender when blocking on the backside of running plays.
The officials went overboard, however, throwing flags for holding all over the field. They called 188 offensive holding penalties in the first 33 games, including 10 in the Titans-Jaguars game.
By halftime, Brady was tweeting, “Too many penalties. Just let us play!!!” and then, “I’m turning off this game I can’t watch these ridiculous penalties anymore.”
Analyst Troy Aikman noted Brady’s tweets on the game broadcast, saying, “Tom Brady is one of the least controversial people we have in our game. He is league royalty. When he makes a statement like that, that should get somebody’s attention.”
It sure did.
Al Riveron, the league’s senior vice president of officiating, held a conference call with referees Saturday, ESPN reported, and they were instructed to stick to the backside holding calls and allow more time for O-linemen to get their hands inside the frame of defenders on front-side and other blocks.
The officials only flagged offensive holding 45 more times the rest of the weekend, an average of three a game, down from nearly six a game before Sunday.
Brady tried to make nice with the officials a day after complaining about all the flags, saying, “I’m very pro-ref.”
The backtracking by one of the NFL’s biggest stars makes sense because he relies on the officials to protect him when 300-pound defenders are bearing down on him in the pocket. Dolphins linebacker Raekwon McMillan told The Miami Herald that a member of the officiating crew told him after a legal hit on Brady last week, ”Stay off Tom .”
On his weekly Westwood One interview that aired Monday night, Brady explained his initial criticism, saying, “I want to see tough, hard-nosed football. When I was watching the other night, I decided to turn it off because I didn’t feel like that’s what I was seeing.”
The yellow flags were bringing another black eye to the NFL at a time when the Antonio Brown saga had consumed consumers’ attention while the league was trying to celebrate its 100th season.
One of the NFL’s most prolific receivers for a decade, Brown was traded out of Pittsburgh and released in Oakland after wearing out his welcome in both cities. The Patriots signed him anyway, and just days later a former trainer filed a civil lawsuit in Florida accusing him of rape. He played in one game, then was released Friday after the team learned he tried to intimidate a second woman who accused him of sexual misconduct.
After thanking the Patriots for the opportunity and wishing them another Super Bowl win, Brown went on a Twitter rant on his first NFL Sunday without a team. He announced he was done for good with the league that exiled him and took shots at Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick drew criticism on social media for staring down CBS Sports reporter Dana Jacobson, who asked him before the Jets-Patriots game what was the final straw with Brown.
“We’re focused on the Jets today,” Belichick replied, then stared at Jacobson for two seconds, ignoring her as she replied, “Thank you, Coach, thank you.”
Detroit QB Matthew Stafford helped spring J.D. McKissic on a 44-yard reverse that set up a field goal in the Lions’ 27-24 win at Philadelphia.
Stafford was supposed to block the defensive end but none was there because the Eagles had just 10 men on the field.
“So, I just kept moving and found the next guy,” said Stafford, who shielded McKissic from three defenders on his way downfield.
Eagles receiver Nelson Agholor is having fun with a fan who threw shade at him in a TV interview after saving children from a fire. Hakim Laws of West Philadelphia told reporters, “We was catching ’em ... unlike Agholor.”
“Thank you for being a hero in the community, would like to invite you and your family to the next home game,” Agholor replied on Twitter as he shared the viral video of the man who couldn’t help but get in a dig about the receiver’s drops.