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Bucs-Bears: The ‘FitzMagic’ trick that could await Khalil Mack

 
Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) has drawn more roughing-the-passer penalties than any NFL quarterback since 2009.  JIM DAMASKE  |   Times
Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) has drawn more roughing-the-passer penalties than any NFL quarterback since 2009. JIM DAMASKE | Times
Published Sept. 29, 2018|Updated Sept. 29, 2018

CHICAGO — It's not unusual to find a quarterback buried like a dog's bone beneath Khalil Mack.

The Bears linebacker is tied for the NFL lead with four sacks and has forced three fumbles, recovered one and has an interception.

But in this Year of Roughing the Passer, what surprises even Mack is that he has not been buried under yellow flags.

The Bears have a league-leading 14 sacks without a roughing penalty.

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"I thought I might get called last week," Mack said. " But who knows? Just got to keep coming. If they finally call a penalty, let it be.''

The law of averages — and the long arm of the NFL's new roughing laws — could catch up with him Sunday when the Bucs visit Soldier Field.

Especially if Ryan Fitzpatrick starts again for Tampa Bay.

In one of the least appreciated "FitzMagic" tricks, he's drawn more roughing-the-passer penalties than any quarterback since 2009.

The 38 automatic first-downs Fitzpatrick has drawn in 119 games are magnified by the fact the next closest QBs — Drew Brees and Matt Ryan — each have drawn 29 penalties in 155 and 154 games respectively.

Fitzpatrick has drawn a league-leading five flags this season — including two on Monday night against the Steelers, when Pittsburgh hit him 13 times.

"Physically, I feel good,'' Fitzpatrick said. "I didn't get hit in the preseason. Didn't get much those first two games. So it's kind of nice to get one of those games in where you get hit around a little bit and feel like you're part of the team and a football player."

The NFL's new roughing-the-passer penalty, however, has some questioning whether quarterbacks are still being treated like football players. In an effort to protect their biggest stars, implemented Rule 12, Section 2, Article 9 of the NFL rulebook saying a defensive player may not unnecessarily or violently throw the QB down or land on top of him with some of most of the defender's weight.

The change is the talk of the league. Gerald McCoy, micced up for the Buc-Steelers game, was heard apologizing to Ben Roethlisberger while drawing a roughing penalty. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said the change has altered the game "as much as any one (rule) I have seen make a change from our past."

There have been 34 roughing the passer calls this season through three weeks.

Last year at the same point? 16.

The four combined roughing calls in the Bucs-Steelers game were the most in an NFL game since 2001, according to ESPN.

Roethlisberger is 6-foot-5, 241-pounds with a reputation as one of the hardest quarterbacks to get on the ground. So it was surprising to see him be chopped down so easily Monday when Bucs defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul stretched his right hand, glancing Roethlisberger's helmet.

Roethlisberger stumbled backward and hit the ground like he had been struck by an anvil.

The Bucs were flagged. A couple days later, Roethlisberger admitted to a Flop-lisberger.

"You know, I might've went to the ground a little bit to sell it, but it definitely got me,'' Roethlisberger at Pittsburgh radio station. "So I think that's a good call."

Pierre-Paul's penalty was called because defenders are not allowed to strike a quarterback in the head. But the proclivity for referees to call roughing the passer penalties this season may result in what happened Monday night when Big Ben pretended somebody cleaned his clock.

What's next? Could quarterbacks take advantage of this rule with a few acting lessons? Is this going to become like a basketball player taking a charge? All that's missing is the cold spray and two guys carrying a stretcher as part of the routine and a soccer game is going to break out.

Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale was appalled by what he saw on film of the play.

"Let's not turn this into the NBA flop fest,'' Martindale said. "Cause now the quarterbacks are making a mockery of it to the officials in the league. Now you're insulting the officials and the league if you (flop)."

Maybe so, 15 yards and a first down are huge incentives for trying to coax a flag. Receivers have been known to be knocked down by a feather in an effort to attract a pass interference penalty. Punters have been the thespians of the NFL for decades.

Why not embellish a little?

"No. I don't think so,'' Fitzpatrick said. "I would hope not. I don't think the theatrics is part of what we do at this position.''

Besides, Bucs coach Dirk Koetter says, most quarterbacks want to avoid hits, not invite them.

"I think the officials are better than that,'' Koetter said. "I think our officials are really good in this league and I think they're better. We've all seen plays whether it be pros or college, I would guess what you're talking about is like a punter gets barely touched on a punt and goes down. I just think that the refs in this league are just too good. I also think the quarterbacks are so locked into what they're doing I think it would be hard to say, 'I'm going to fake it.' Trust me, those hits hurt. I think it would be hard to fake it.''

Contact Rick Stroud at rstroud@tampabay.com. Follow @NFLStroud