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Sunday football notes

Players call foul over NFL’s emphasis on taunting rules

Buccaneers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (left) taunting Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill during the Super Bowl in February is a tactic the NFL wants to eliminate.Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

It’s Week 3 of the NFL season, which means it must be time to … (checks notes) … yup … complain about the officiating.

In previous years it was the catch/no catch rule that had players and fans up in arms, or too much defensive pass interference, or an emphasis on offensive holding.

This year, the target of everyone’s ire is the NFL’s commitment to enforcing its taunting rules. Through the first two weeks of the season, officials had called as many taunting penalties (11) as they had for the entire 2020 season. If this pace continues, the NFL will have 93 taunting penalties this year.


The taunting rules haven’t changed, but the NFL decided to call it tighter this year on the recommendation of the 12 coaches involved with the league’s competition committee.

“All of us, to a man, acknowledged that this is something that needed to be addressed,” said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who is on the committee. “The players will adjust. They always do. They better adjust quickly, specifically speaking of mine.”

The players, of course, are not happy with this stricter policing. The NFL Players Association recently said on social media, “For those who aren’t a fan of the new taunting rule, we aren’t either.” On an Instagram post making a similar sentiment, Tom Brady commented, “AGREE!”

The problem is that seemingly mundane plays are drawing 15-yard flags. There were three taunting penalties called in Week 1, and a whopping eight in Week 2. Players can be fined $10,300 for their first taunting offense, and $15,450 for a second.

Texans tight end Jordan Akins was flagged after spinning a football after a catch, one of several taunting penalties dished out in Week 2.Jason Miller/Getty

Texans tight end Jordan Akins got penalized for spinning the football after a catch. Chargers receiver Keenan Allen got flagged for taunting, but he was really yelling at a defender for delivering a helmet-to-helmet hit that officials missed.


Even some coaches haven’t been thrilled with the added emphasis. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, whose team has been flagged twice for taunting, said “it’s hard to manage” emotions after a big play. And Saints coach Sean Payton agreed with Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner that application of the rule hasn’t been consistent.

“I don’t think all the crews are on the same page,” Payton said.

The emphasis on taunting represents a pushback from the NFL after it loosened its celebration rules in 2017. The NFL says the celebrations are still a welcome part of the game, but that they can quickly spiral out of control. USA Today reported this past week that upon review, the NFL determined that nine of the 11 taunting calls were appropriate.

While the frequency of the penalty has increased significantly this year, it’s the last couple of seasons that were more of an outlier. The NFL had 11 taunting flags last year and eight in 2019, but 22, 20, and 28 the three previous years.

“I mean, I’m all for the celebrations,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said. “Remember, we [the Panthers, Rivera’s former team] were the 2015 team that everybody was mad at because we were dabbing and stuff like that, taking pictures on the sideline. So, you want these guys to keep their personality. You want them to be who they are because these guys are explosive players that make dynamic plays. But the intent is so that somebody doesn’t do something that gets somebody to come back with a little retribution. You don’t want that. You don’t want somebody out for revenge. That’s what we’re trying to prevent.”


Falcons president and CEO Rich McKay, the chairman of the competition committee, said the taunting emphasis was also requested by the NCAA.

“We meet with the NCAA every year, and the college coaches in the meeting say, ‘Hey, when are you guys going to knock down the taunting?’ ” McKay said on the Falcons’ website. “The NCAA does not like our celebration rule and the fact that we’ve basically allowed people to celebrate in any way, shape, or form they want. They’ve come to accept it, and they’re kind of OK with it. They’re not OK with the taunting side of it, which is the face-to-face player trying to entice another into doing something because they see what happens. That’s all we’re trying to target with this emphasis.”

Bill Belichick believes there’s a difference between celebrating with your teammates and jawing at an opponent.

“In general, I don’t think there’s a place for taunting in the game,” Belichick said this past week on WEEI. “I think that’s poor sportsmanship and it leads to other things. It leads to retaliation. And then where do you draw the line? And so I think the whole idea of the rule is to kind of nip it in the bud and not let it get started. And I’m in favor of that.”

Rivera said the rule shouldn’t be hard for players to comprehend. Celebrating: good. Making an act toward an opponent: not good.


“Guys intercept [a pass] and run all the way down to the end zone — that’s fine,” Rivera said. “We’re not trying to stop the players from having fun. We’re just trying to make sure we don’t end up with a brawl on our hands.”


More penalties overall this year

Penalties, particularly holding and unnecessary roughness, are up in 2021.Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

A few other penalty trends after two weeks:

▪ Penalties and yardage are up significantly from last year, but are right in line with numbers from 2017-19. The 2020 season was more of an outlier, with about 600 fewer flags and 5,000 fewer penalty yards than in other recent seasons.

▪ Officials are calling significantly more offensive holding and unnecessary roughness penalties this year. If the NFL still had a 16-game schedule (teams play 17 this year), it would be on pace for 768 offensive holding penalties, compared with 568 last year. There would be 256 unnecessary roughness penalties this year, compared with 174 last year.

▪ Conversely, defensive holding is down significantly. The pace would be 192 calls this year, compared with 258 last year.

▪ Another point of emphasis is the ineligible man downfield penalty. There have been 14 called this year, compared with just one after two weeks last year.


Manning brothers are entertaining

The most entertaining game of the week has quickly become the “Monday Night Football” simulcast on ESPN2 that features Peyton and Eli Manning trading barbs and talking X’s and O’s among themselves and a handful of guests.

The former quarterbacks provide incredible insight into the game, and spin some great stories about the past.


Among the things we have learned from the first two broadcasts:

▪ Peyton and Eli joked about the concept of “halftime adjustments.” NFL halftime is only 12 minutes, which is too quick to do anything substantial.

“By the time you make the long walk to the locker room, you maybe go to the restroom real quick, the coach is coming down from the booth, he gets down there and says, ‘Hey guys, good job, we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to run this play and this play,’ ” Eli said.

“And then somebody yells, ‘Two minutes. Two minutes until we’re out.’ And you’re like, ‘That’s all we get?’ So when the media comes after and asks, ‘Hey, what happened at halftime? Y’all came out fired up.’ And you want to be like, ‘Yeah, it must have been the oranges and the two plays we talked about that we were going to run. That was the difference.’ ”

Rob Gronkowski joked on last week's "ManningCast" that he doesn't watch film, a claim he quickly walked back.Don Montague/Associated Press

Rob Gronkowski was a guest in Week 2 and said he doesn’t really watch film except when the team watches it together.

“I know Tom [Brady] watches 40 hours of film a week. I go, ‘Tom, who’s covering me this week? What kind of coverages are they playing?’ ” Gronkowski said.

Gronkowski walked it back a few days later, saying “Trust me, I watch so much film that my girlfriend gets mad at me.” Gronkowski also joked that coach Bruce Arians “threatened me. I don’t get my vet day anymore.”

▪ Peyton said former quarterback Rich Gannon taught him a trick — if you don’t like a play call from the sideline, pretend the earpiece in the helmet isn’t working and call your own play.

▪ Peyton said he once tried to write an apology letter to an official for chewing him out, but the league office wouldn’t give Peyton the official’s home address.

“They thought I was going to go egg his house or something,” Peyton said. “The guys thinks I’m a jerk to this day because I cussed him out for a holding call against the Dolphins in the second quarter.”

Costly move for Kroenke

Stan Kroenke’s decision to move the Rams from St. Louis to Los Angeles increased the value of his team significantly. But it’s also costing him a lot of money.

Costs associated with SoFi Stadium and the surrounding area ballooned to about $5 billion, far more than anticipated. And now Kroenke and the NFL could be on the hook for another $1 billion or more thanks to a lawsuit from city and state officials in St. Louis alleging the NFL ignored its obligations under its own relocation policy.

On Wednesday, the Missouri Supreme Court rejected attempts from five current and one former NFL team owners — Kroenke, Jerry Jones, John Mara, Clark Hunt, Robert Kraft, and Jerry Richardson — to avoid having to disclose personal financial information. Starting Tuesday, each will be fined $1,000 per day they fail to comply. The city of St. Louis and other plaintiffs want the financial data so they can determine potential punitive damages.

The NFL previously lost a motion for summary judgment, and a request to get the suit moved to a different city. The case is slated for trial in January if a settlement can’t be reached.

Meyers had mentor in Newton

Former Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (center left) played a big part in the early career of receiver Jakobi Meyers (center right).Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

The Patriots’ decision to release Cam Newton and anoint Mac Jones as the starting quarterback caught most outsiders by surprise. And it seems to have hit hard for some players in the Patriots’ locker room, too.

Receiver Jakobi Meyers recently did an interview with The 33rd Team and spoke of how much Newton meant to him. Meyers idolized Newton when growing up in the Atlanta area, and played for Newton’s 7-on-7 team in high school.

“Cam probably played a real big part of my career to this point,” Meyers said. “Where I’m from, Cam Newton was kind of a big figure. He talked to me when things weren’t necessarily looking my way, or I wasn’t probably the best player that I could’ve been, he would let me know, or he would holler at me, or he would tell me what he was thinking from a quarterback’s perspective.”

The interview appeared to have been recorded before the Week 1 game against Miami. Meyers expressed excitement about Mac Jones, but his answer also made clear that he thought Newton would be the quarterback.

“I mean, Cam was my guy for sure, but Mac, that’s a talented kid,” Meyers said. “You can’t be mad at him for being in the situation that he’s in, because he definitely came in and worked his butt off. We all talked to Mac the other day, we told him that we’ve got his back, and we feel like with him at the head we can definitely go out there and make plays and build off of what we did last year.”

Poaching is in practice

One practice that has become more common this year is teams poaching players off another team’s practice squad. It happened five times this past week.

Teams have 16 players on the practice squad (compared with 10 in 2019 and can protect four each week. Any player that is poached has to remain on his new team’s 53-man roster for at least three weeks.

Under the old collective bargaining agreement, teams would prevent their players from being poached by increasing their practice squad pay. But under the CBA passed last year, teams no longer get a right of first refusal, so to speak. As a courtesy, a player can ask his team if it wants to bump him up to the active roster before he joins his new team. But there is no obligation to do so, and teams clearly feel more empowered to swipe players under the new rules.

Extra points

Former Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips is being added to the franchise's ring of honor this weekend.Getty Images/Getty

The Titans are celebrating their Houston Oilers heritage Sunday during their home game against the Colts. Former Oilers coach Bum Phillips is being added to the team’s ring of honor, and several dozen former Oilers players will be in attendance, including Warren Moon, Elvin Bethea, Ernest Givins, and Robert Brazile. Owner Amy Adams Strunk, daughter of original owner Bud Adams, felt it important to give the Oilers legends a home with the Titans. The team moved from Houston to Tennessee after the 1996 season. “We may be Oilers, but I think we’re going to all die Titans,” Brazile said … Speaking of Colts-Titans, the road team has won each of the last five matchups … The Bills may be 1-1 after last week’s 35-0 thrashing of Miami, but quarterback Josh Allen is not happy with his play. His completion percentage has dropped from 69.2 last year to 56.0 this year, he’s throwing for 60 fewer passing yards per game, and his passer rating has dropped from 107.2 to 77.9. “It’s no secret that I didn’t play great last game and I didn’t play great the week before,” Allen said. “When things aren’t going well I get so frustrated with myself. So I’ve got to find a way to keep going and be the best leader that I can be for this team.” … Bears tight end Jimmy Graham told ESPN this past week that his rivalry with Gronkowski is what pushed him in his younger years. “My first four years in the league, I actually had Gronk’s jersey hanging in my bedroom. I didn’t have a TV hanging in my room, I had Gronk’s jersey hanging in my room,” Graham said. “So every morning I had to wake up and I knew that I needed to get to work.” … Don’t blitz: Russell Wilson, who through two weeks is 8-for-8 passing for 146 yards with 2 touchdowns, 2 sacks, and a perfect 158.3 rating. Do blitz: Trevor Lawrence, who is 2 of 12 for 42 yards with 2 interceptions, 2 sacks, and a 2.1 passer rating … Teams are 2 for 6 on onside kicks this year, with one conversion each by the Jaguars’ Josh Lambo and the Lions’ Austin Seibert. Last year, teams were 3 for 68 on onside kicks … The most undisciplined team this year has been the 2-0 Buccaneers. They rank in the top two in the NFL in penalties per game (10), penalty yards per game (94.5), and turnovers per game (2.5) … The Buccaneers’ game Sunday in Los Angeles will mark the 37th city and 44th stadium in which Brady has appeared in a regular-season game.

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com.