Lost in the dramatics of yesterday's cliffhanger at M&T Bank Stadium were a few calls by the referees that appear to be taking the league's anti-celebration crusade a little too far. Usually, it's receivers who are the targets of enforcement.
I was at the NFL owners' meeting in Orlando two years ago when the competition committee recommended the tightening of rules that prohibited using parts of the playing field -- goal posts, pylons -- as part of a celebration. They did so even though some committee members admitted that when they reviewed the tapes themselves, they thought some of the stuff (read Chad Johnson) was darn funny. This year, the league has taken still another step in penalizing all spiking that can be construed as delay of game.
Yesterday, the Ravens were whistled twice in the first half after big plays. Once, when wide receiver Demetrius Williams caught a 26-yarder on third-and-8 and spun -- not spiked -- the ball to the ground. Tweet, delay of game. Then, when Yamon Figurs scored on his 75-yard punt return late in the first half and did a Lambeau Leap into the end zone stands (above), Devard Darling also jumped up to congratulate Figurs. That drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty -- too many leapers. And it wasn't just the Ravens being dinged. Anquan Boldin was given a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty early in the fourth period after a TD catch. I'm not arguing that the calls were technically wrong -- although the one against Williams was a new one on me -- but it seems the league can't find a happy medium between arrogantly obnoxious and genuinely exuberant.
After the game, I asked Baltimore wide receiver Mark Clayton, who had five catches for 34 yards, whether it was clear what was permissible and what wasn't as the rules keep changing. Clayton was careful in selecting his words because in the NFL, there is zero-tolerance for dissent with officials' calls and it's often expensive.
"It's tough. You get caught up in the moment, everything is going 110 miles per hour and you make a play and you get up and go, 'Whooo!' That's it -- and you don't know if they're going to flag it or not, Clayton said. "But we just have to play our game and go with it.
"In the NFL, it's extremely hard to make plays and make plays consistently -- get in the end zone, convert third downs. It's tough, it's difficult." he added. "So when you finally do that, I've got this stuff in me that I've just got to release."
Photo credit: Gene Sweeney Jr.