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?

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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?

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

“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.’’

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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. 

Advertisement

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.