Shutdown Corner - NFL

The Baltimore Ravens started the 2010 season about as you'd expect from this franchise -- an offense that was supposed to be far more dynamic is still stuck in the blocks, but the defense has been spectacular. Through two games, the Ravens haven't allowed an offensive touchdown, and though the New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals (the teams they've faced) will not be mistaken for offensive juggernauts this season, that defense has been as it's been through most of the last decade -- ridiculously good.

Baltimore hasn't allowed a single touchdown of any kind; just eight field goals. But in the 15-10 loss to the Bengals, there were two field goals that linebacker Ray Lewis(notes) believes should have been a bit tougher to come by.

"I don't think I want to be politically correct here. I want to be honest," Lewis said after the game. "Honest is you put six points on the damn board by people [on Baltimore's defense] doing their jobs. We laugh about it so much [about how] quarterbacks get all this protection. I get tired of whining about quarterbacks. [...]

"You always try to be careful because the league always tries to fine you. But there are so many rules that take away from the game. I get blocked into the player and you tell me that I tripped this man but this man fell over my feet. There’s too much crying from them. You already make the big money. Keep your big money. But don’t cry when you step on the football field. That’s war out there. If you want to go at it, go at it hard. But don’t disrespect the game like that. [...]

"Six points was given off of B.S. It’s embarrassing that you can put them in field-goal range off of two calls like that when they couldn’t get into the end zone themselves."

When you look at the tripping call on Lewis, which happened with 3:03 left in the third quarter, it's very clear that Lewis was blocked into Carson Palmer(notes) by running back Bernard Scott(notes). Lewis was sort of half-rolling across the pocket, and his feet got tangled up with Palmer's as Palmer was trying to run out of the pocket. Unless the official in question wasn't watching the play, and only woke up in time to see Palmer go to the ground, there's no way anyone could look at that play and not wave it off as incidental contact.

The roughing-the-passer penalty on Terrell Suggs(notes) with 5:31 left in the game was just as ridiculous. On the play, Suggs made contact with Palmer as Palmer still had the ball in his hand -- he was in the process of getting the ball out as Suggs started to take him to the ground. We've asked this question before, but how exactly is a defensive player supposed to stop in mid-air after the quarterback releases the ball? I understand if it's a full second after the play, or if Suggs was leading with his helmet, but referee Gene Steratore specifically cited "slamming the quarterback to the ground" as the reason for the personal-foul call.

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And my question is: What else is Suggs supposed to do in that case? He's got just as much right to make contact with a guy who still has the ball as the quarterback has to get the ball out before he's killed. But that didn't happen. Suggs had every reason to believe he was in the act of putting up a sack or a quarterback hit that could affect Palmer's ability to do his job. And when Suggs and Palmer are going to the ground, Suggs made no additional attempt to wrap Palmer up in a way that would lead you to believe he was trying any sort of "piledriver" move.

Even Fox analyst Mike Pereira, who was as obvious a league apologist as you could imagine in his previous role as the NFL's VP of officiating, couldn't find a way to excuse the Suggs call. From the Baltimore Sun:

"While referees are instructed to err on the side of safety when it comes to protecting the quarterback, I feel the call was incorrect," said Pereira. [...].

He added, "Suggs made a form tackle on [Bengals quarterback Carson] Palmer. And while he did land on top of him, he did not appear to unnecessarily or violently throw the quarterback down and land on top of him with most or all of his weight, which is what the rule states. I can see why the referee made the call that he did, but to me, it was a normal tackle and not a foul."

Unfortunately, there's no way to erase those penalty-related opportunities from the game. Both penalties gave the Bengals restarts on their drives, and the bogus tripping call pulled Cincinnati out of a third-and-12 situation. Lewis and his team have a legitimate reason to believe that had the game been called fairly, they could very well have won a game they lost.

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