Yeah, the O-line is important, but referees are Tom Brady’s best friends

John Romano | A horrible roughing penalty in the fourth quarter helps the Bucs beat the Falcons 21-15.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady talks with a referee after his throw to wide receiver Mike Evans was challenged on Sunday.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady talks with a referee after his throw to wide receiver Mike Evans was challenged on Sunday. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Oct. 10, 2022|Updated Oct. 11, 2022

TAMPA — The laws of the NFL are clear. You do not hit quarterbacks in the head, and you do not hit them in the knees. You do not drive them to the turf, and you do not hit them late.

Also — and this is the important part — you do not ruffle Tom Brady’s hair.

We are, after all, a civilized society. So while Tua Tagovailoa can be concussed and Trey Lance can be broken, the rules are different for Super Bowl-winning, model-marrying, network-coveting quarterbacks.

And I think America is OK with that. Well, at least this whacked-out corner of America.

Tampa Bay had a 40-year history of quarterback disasters before Brady came to town, so if the NFL wants to put velvet ropes around the Bucs pocket, then who are we to complain?

This, you might agree, is what it’s like to finally fly first class. The seats are roomier, the food is better and the referees are scared spitless of the quarterback.

In other words, Brady is the farmer’s daughter of the NFL. Touch him at your own peril.

You saw it on Sunday, right?

There was a moment when everything was in doubt. The drive, the game, the spot atop the NFC South standings. The Falcons had seized momentum late in the fourth quarter and the Atlanta defense was high-stepping off the field.

Brady had just been sacked on third down and the Bucs were going to punt the ball back to the Falcons with just under three minutes remaining.

And that’s when referee Jerome Boger, somewhat belatedly, decided that Falcons defensive lineman Grady Jarrett had been unnecessarily rough while putting Brady on the ground.

Now, if you haven’t seen the tackle, it might best be described as somewhat polite. Perhaps, even, genteel. The only thing unnecessary about that tackle was the yellow flag.

“It was a terrible call,” former Bucs coach Tony Dungy wrote on Twitter. “They have to protect all players, including the QBs, but Jarrett did nothing wrong.”

Bucs quarterback Tom Brady signals first down after Falcons defensive end Grady Jarrett was charged a roughing the passer penalty in the fourth quarter.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady signals first down after Falcons defensive end Grady Jarrett was charged a roughing the passer penalty in the fourth quarter. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

When Brady completed a third-down pass a couple of plays later, the Falcons were out of time and the Bucs were on their way to a 21-15 victory.

So were the Falcons robbed of a victory?

“No, no, no, not robbed,” said Atlanta cornerback Casey Heyward. “We got robbed of the opportunity, not the win. We just got robbed of the opportunity to go down and score and try to win the game.”

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Jarrett might have felt a little differently. When the game ended, he threw his helmet across the Raymond James Stadium turf.

Yet, even he seemed to understand the delicate balance between commerce and competition in the NFL. When asked his opinion of the call after the game, Jarrett said to tune in to his Tuesday radio show.

Atlanta coach Arthur Smith, meanwhile, looked like the star of a hostage video during his postgame news conference. Asked repeatedly about the penalty, Smith acted as if he hadn’t seen the play.

This isn’t anything new. And it would be only mildly controversial if it involved any quarterback other than Brady.

But opponents have complained for years that the NFL has meted out punishment differently in matters involving TB12. When a knee injury forced him to miss most of the 2008 season in New England, the NFL promptly changed the rules about hitting quarterbacks below the waist. It’s often derisively referred to as the Brady Rule.

Now Brady, of course, doesn’t see it this way. It doesn’t help his reputation to be singled out as a diva, so he sidestepped any discussion of preferential treatment after Sunday’s game.

“I don’t throw the flags,” he said curtly.

But Brady does talk to the referees. Some might say incessantly. He complains enough during the course of a game that officials often look browbeaten by the fourth quarter.

Heyward talked to Boger after the play and said the referee told him he would have made the same call if Atlanta’s Marcus Mariota had been the quarterback. Except, earlier in the quarter, defensive tackle Vita Vea had thrown Mariota to the ground and safety Antoine Winfield piled on top of the quarterback.

No call.

This isn’t meant to pile on Boger. A football game is organized chaos with 22 bodies slamming into each other play after play, and calls must be made quickly and decisively.

The NFL is also smarting from the criticism over Miami’s mishandling of Tagovailoa’s recent concussion, and protocols seem to be changing by the hour.

Not to mention, as Heyward said, the penalty did not obviously cost the Falcons the game. The Bucs had the lead, and Atlanta did not have a lot of time to drive the length of the field.

So, no, this was not what decided the outcome. But it was a stark warning to defenses everywhere when it comes to Tampa Bay’s quarterback:

You can look, but you better not touch.

John Romano can be reached at Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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