Why there are roughing-the-passer penalties and why there are no answers

Brock Purdy walks into the medical tent after suffering an injury during the 1st quarter of the NFC Championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Jan. 29, 2023, in Philadelphia.

It’s a belabored point by now. We’ve spent enough time covering it. But every time an NFL game turns into a farce when someone has to turn to a backup QB, or wonder in vain why they didn’t dress a third, we get back to it. We rant and yell when we watch our team on the ass end of a game-changing roughing the passer call — or in my case or any other Chicago Bears fan’s case when we can’t get any call on Justin Fields. But deep down we know the answer.

The San Francisco 49ers got where they are because they have superlative coaching and they also lucked out when no one particularly wanted to acquire Jimmy Garoppolo and he ended up as their backup. Trey Lance’s injury to any other team — and in fairness that was on a scramble — probably kneecaps their whole season. QBs run now, and there’s an inherent risk, and there’s nothing to be done about that, but the league feels the need to lessen the risk where they can.

Is there a better way? Perhaps not every call has to be worth 15 yards. Conceivably they could be on a scale. But then you’d have to trust the refs to know what was a five- or 10-yard penalty and what was worth the usual personal foul. A slight bump after a pass is thrown could be just five yards, whereas a whack to the head 10 seconds after a pass is thrown gets the full penalty. But didn’t the refs of the Cincinnati Bengals-Kansas City Chiefs game show the world why that wouldn’t work? You really trust these guys to make judgment calls?

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The NHL couldn’t pull that off either. In a perfect world, two- or four-minute high-sticking penalties would be a judgment call based on recklessness and intent. But NHL refs couldn’t be trusted to tell the difference, so they have the pretty arbitrary criterion of whether a player bleeds or not. And NFL refs are farther down the totem pole of competence than their NHL comrades, somehow. No, NFL refs need clear rules that are as close to cut and dried as they can get, and they’ll still fuck that up.

We could say that every team should just rise to the level of planning and tactical genius of the Niners to be ready for a backup or the No. 3 to take over. But if you go over the rules for practice in training camp and during the season, there really isn’t all that much time. And given that more and more NFL teams are easing off practice as the season goes on, there’s less time than ever. And that’s fine, because those practice rules were collectively bargained and probably save some injuries to a host of players. It just won’t prep a backup.

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That’s the game now, though so is complaining about it all.

Vancouver Canucks trade Bo Horvat to Isles

There was a pretty big trade in the NHL last night, as the Vancouver Canucks finally freed Bo Horvat from his toil in B.C. and sent him to Long Island, and the Islanders returned Anthony Beauvillier, Aatu Räty, and the Isles’ first round pick in the 2023 draft.

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Horvat has been lighting it up this season, as his “Come and get me!” beacon, with 31 goals, already matching his career high. It’s not that Horvat is that much of a different player than he’s ever been, he’s just seeing more of his shots going in because clearly, the gods wanted to get him out of Vancouver to save his soul as well. The Canucks get a reclamation project in Beauvillier, an intriguing prospect in Raty, and a first-rounder they can totally biff come June.

What exactly the Islanders are doing is anyone’s guess. They’re only two points out of a playoff spot but the teams they’re chasing have three games in hand on them. They’ve gotten pretty old at forward, and with Horvat turning 28 in April, he doesn’t really help that much. And that’s if he re-signs.

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Which is another issue for the Isles, as they only really have Semyon Varlamov’s $5 million coming off the books, and they’d have to hand that and more to Horvat coming off a 40-goal season. And then they’d have no flexibility.

The Islanders are not unlucky to be where they are, as they’ve gotten some great goaltending from both Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin, but once again a team with Lou Lamoriello as GM lacks punch up front. Horvat will help with that, but enough? And where is this team going even if it scraps a wildcard spot? It’s not the 90s anymore, and Lou can’t just toss 12 faceless forwards out there who simply work hard and keep a good defensive shape to win. But Lamiorello has always been allergic to actually paying anyone, and he’s already committed $9 million a year to Mathew Barzal. Is he going to do it again to Horvat? And if he doesn’t, what was the point of this trade?

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This is why you don’t hire a guy whose major accomplishments were 15-20 years in the rearview, folks. 

Pair of NHL brothers face off for first time, share penalty box minutes

Image for article titled Pair of NHL brothers face off for first time, share penalty box minutes

The Joseph family had a memorable Friday night as P.O. Joseph of the Pittsburgh Penguins and brother Mathieu Joseph, playing for the Ottawa Senators, faced off for the first time as NHL players. Mom and dad were in the stands for the game for the occasion, and as only brothers can do, got put in timeout together for roughhousing with each other.

Upon further review, it appeared that P.O. caught himself in the face with his own stick, and Mathieu should’ve skated free of a high stick penalty. While that’s how things should’ve transpired according to the rules of the game, the laws of siblings deemed otherwise.

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“I don’t know if they thought this is going to be funny or something that we’re both going to get a penalty at the same time,’’ Mathieu Joseph said. “But stuff happens. I’m sure my parents had a good laugh about it, but I didn’t think it was funny.’’

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It doesn’t matter whose fault it was. If I’ve learned anything from life with two siblings, it’s that intent or whose fault it is that doesn’t matter. If one sibling gets hurt while another is in close proximity, both get punished. It’s only fair, and good parents don’t give preferential treatment regardless of which child is the favorite son. (There’s always a favorite, and don’t let your parents tell you otherwise. There’s no greater lie than “We love you all equally.”)

I think my favorite part of the night, other than the parents’ incredulous reaction to their boys heading toward the box, was the pregame photo op that definitely didn’t foreshadow the events.

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Pittsburgh ended up winning, 4-1, but neither brother left the ice with the high ground. Seeing as the penalty was self-inflicted, maybe next time the refs will let them out of the box once they apologize to each other. I know that’s how it worked in my house. 

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The Josephs aren’t the first siblings this happened to. Keith and Wayne Primeau fought during a 1997 Buffalo Sabres-Hartford Whalers game, and Brent and Rich Sutter had roughing penalties against each other in a 1992 Chicago Blackhawks-St. Louis Blues contest.

Tom Brady doesn’t wanna be out here

Tom Brady

One of my many personal nightmares, as a Chicago Bears fan, is of course the 2010 NFC Championship game. The one where Jay Cutler got hurt and launched 1,000 ships of idiotic takes he, the Bears, and really we as a city never recovered from. And of course, it was the Green Bay Packers. Oh, what we might have had in Aaron Rodgers’s brain melt had he never had this.

Anyway, after Cutler didn’t make it out for the second half, the Bears had to turn to Todd Collins. He was 39 at the time. Todd Collins at 27 wasn’t much to talk about. At 39, well, you can probably figure it out.

He threw only four passes, but it was obvious to anyone watching that he didn’t want to play. He had come to back up and collect his paycheck and prayed he never had to get into a game. He probably shat himself when news that Cutler was out came to him. He chucked the in any direction that he could later claim was the first read, but mostly just got him the reward of never getting close to getting hit. He was looking for the bench and the exit the moment he stepped between the lines. Three and outs were his Valhalla.

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Todd Collins

Last night, Tom Brady looked like Todd Collins that day.

I couldn’t pretend to know or even suspect all the things that have time and freedom to somersault around the vacuous space between Brady’s ears. Clearly, he can be convinced of anything, and that he’s spent 20-plus years now simply getting his shoes shined and his hair styled by everyone hasn’t given him much of an urge to fill it with anything substantial. He’s the perfectly constructed empty shell, which is all he ever needed to be.

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In that cranium void, Brady knows attention equals good, compliments and tributes equal good, which is why he’ll subject us to another offseason of hopping back and forth over the retirement line. Through whatever backward and roughly hewn calculations he’s come up with, he knows that having writers and reporters talking about him coming back and fans asking him to come to their team is good. He knows the possibility of retirement will engineer an update of all the video packages, and the tributes that were trotted out last winter and spring, which makes him feel good.

But he doesn’t actually want to play. You saw that against the Cowboys. He’s always been a baby about getting hit, but last night was the biggest example of him doing whatever he could to avoid it. Including some inexplicably bad throws. He just wanted to get rid of the ball. He wanted to be off the field. He didn’t want any part of that.

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He’s had the same look on his face that he’s had all season, which is of a guy who’s ended up in a neighborhood he doesn’t recognize. Didn’t there use to be a bank here? Was that always a park? In those moments, you can truly see that the calculations don’t add up. He likes all that other stuff, but in those moments you see that he doesn’t really like playing anymore and is truly mystified why he thought all the other stuff was worth actually suiting up and getting on the field.

Yeah, we know about all the comebacks. But in a two-minute drill, he can throw five-yard passes to his heart’s content. The pass-rushers get tired and are less likely to hit him. He’s under less threat. He’s lucky the Bucs’ defense kept him around enough games to do that.

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It’s understandable, after 20+ years there has to come a point where the physical toll is something you no longer want to put up with. Maybe he thought he would never get touched. Maybe he convinced himself, in the child-like fascination he has with himself and what’s being said and written about him, that he wouldn’t be hit or that he could stand up to it again. That sort of thing can blind perception of what’s real and what isn’t.

We’ll do it all again. He’ll probably figure out a way to go play for someone new, and the change of scenery will invigorate him. The hundreds of “Welcome to (Miami/Vegas/Wherever), Tom!” signs and puff pieces will fill his insatiable need for affirmation and attention. He clearly doesn’t know what he’d do when that all goes away, because it’s all he knows.

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But the actual football? He’s left that behind. Doesn’t have much interest. He’ll do it because he knows it means the other stuff. A dog will stay for treats, after all. And Tom has always been the fanciest of dogs. And a whole new set of teammates will wonder why there’s this much stuff going around a guy who doesn’t want to be out there like they do.

AEW’s Ruby Soho may have overdone it with the blading

Image for article titled AEW's Ruby Soho may have overdone it with the blading

Capping off a week of pretty wild wrestling news, I suppose it was somewhat comforting that it ended with a familiar dumbass debate within the industry. Talks of board takeovers and sales to oppressive foreign regimes, that’s above most wrestling fans’ paygrade (though it won’t stop us from chiming in, because that’s part of the fun!). What are women wrestlers allowed and not allowed to do? That’s territory we know!

In case you missed it, the main event of AEW’s Friday night show “Rampage” was a street fight between the teams of Anna Jay and Tay Melo against Willow Nightingale and Ruby Soho. It was pretty obvious where this was going the moment all four women appeared wearing white shirts. Because white shirts in a no-dq style match almost always means blood stains to make the match pop. Chekov’s tank top, if you will.

And so it proved, with Ruby doing the blade job after taking a spot from inside a garbage can (god, writing about wrestling really can be the best because where else do you arrange those words?) And Ruby certainly didn’t half-ass it, looking like something out of a B-horror movie for most of the match. And this led to some very rational and level-headed reactions, as you might imagine.

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Women doing what men have done for decades

This was hardly the first time that the women on the AEW roster have “gone Moxley.” Britt Baker’s entire rise to the top of the division was based on her lights-out match with Thunder Rosa where she was covered in her own plasma. She even made a t-shirt about it. This wasn’t even new to Jay and Melo, who had a previous street fight with The Bunny and Penelope Ford where all four women were opened up. This is kind of a thing for AEW, especially in matches that are supposed to go over the edge, as “streetfights” are meant to do.

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It is still a little striking, because women doing what the men have done for decades is still pretty new to mainstream TV. While women’s wrestling came to prominence in WWE, WWE has a pretty strict no-blood policy for everyone. It is not something a TV audience is all that used to.

But still, it shouldn’t be much of a shock when AEW allows the women to do whatever their men’s side have been doing for the company’s entire existence. Either these women are full out wrestlers or they’re not. Ruby is a longtime veteran of the indies, and is certainly no stranger to that element of storytelling from her time there. If wrestling fans really want to know what it can look like, they should check out some of the shit Candice LaRae got up to when she was on the indies.

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What sets AEW apart

While the degree of blood Ruby shed might have been over the top, and maybe accidental, this is how AEW has separated itself from day one. It is the wrestling company, not the sports entertainment company. Maybe blood isn’t your thing, it’s not really mine, but it is a part of wrestling storytelling and has been for its entire existence. It certainly has its place. AEW has been the company on TV that bleeds and that’s part of the reason it’s special. It’s a different product, and this is one of the reasons why.

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So why should the women be any different? Why should they be limited in the ways they can do matches and tell stories? This was the end of a pretty long-term feud for Ruby and Tay, the kind of long-term feud-building that the women’s division doesn’t get a lot of. Tay (accidentally) broke Ruby’s nose at All Out, putting the latter out of action for months. Ruby returned for vengeance, but had to overcome the obstacle and interference of Tay’s BFF Jay, keeping her from catharsis. So she found a partner, and this was the final blowoff.

Something that took months to put together should have a cataclysmic ending so that we know it’s got an underline when it’s over. And if that involves some color, that’s cool. It was an illustration of just how far Ruby was willing to go to finally put Tay in her place. Wrestling being a visual art from first and foremost, you couldn’t really get a more vivid picture.

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The fact that women’s matches more rarely use this device only makes it that much more effective when they do. It’s a bigger beat. And it’s a good reminder that they’re taking the same bumps and making the same sacrifices and are no more delicate flowers than anyone else on the roster.

Ruby certainly now has more buzz than she’s had since her introduction, as does Willow. And even with the momentum the women’s division has gotten lately, it still needs more foils for its two champs, Jamie Hayter and Jade Cargill. Friday’s match only pushed both Nightingale and Ruby back towards being said foils.

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A matter of degree?

So is it just a matter of degrees? Yeah, Ruby bled excessively, but you didn’t hear much of anything like the furor when Dustin Rhodes literally covered the mat in a match with his half-brother Cody on AEW’s first official show. Jon Moxley makes a habit out of bleeding from pretty much just walking to the ring, even when it’s extraneous or superfluous.

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This probably isn’t any more complicated than men having been grossed out by the combination of women and blood for pretty much the entirety of human history. Does anyone really think women are grossed out by blood? It is a safe bet that many are still squeamish about the mere idea of menstrual cycles and periods, and that’s blood that they don’t even see. Have your partners or friends tell you what merely going to the bathroom can look like for women during that time.

Ruby is a wrestler in the wrestling company. No more, no less. This is what AEW has been and will be, and that applies to everyone under their tent.