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Head NFL ref defends celebration penalty on Cowboys’ Colombo

Cowboys offensive lineman Marc Colombo didn’t intend to go to the ground when celebrating a Jason Witten touchdown in Sunday’s loss to the Titans, but he did stumble and fall during the celebration.

NFL V.P. of officiating Carl Johnson says it doesn’t matter what Colombo intended to do. What matters, Johnson said during an NFL Network “Official Review” segment, is that Colombo went to the ground. That’s a penalty, period.

“We can’t judge intent,” Johnson said. “It would have been avoided had Colombo stayed on his feet. If I had been on the field I would have flagged it as well.”

The penalty on the Cowboys turned out to be costly, as it led to a long Titans kickoff return that set up Tennessee’s game-winning score. Johnson says that’s exactly why players need to know not to go to the ground in a celebration -- and not even to engage in any celebration that might result in accidentally falling to the ground.

“The rule is pretty clear and explicit,” Johnson said. “Going to the ground as part of a celebration, it’s pretty black and white -- it’s clear, we don’t allow a player to go to the ground as part of a celebration.”

NFL Network’s Rich Eisen asked Johnson why officials couldn’t just apply a little common sense and see that Colombo wasn’t trying to go to the ground -- he was just a clumsy 300-pounder who fell while chest bumping with his more agile teammates.

“The thing about common sense, Rich, is it’s not consistent,” Johnson said. “When we have a black and white rule, that’s what we want to go with.”

That’s a lesson Colombo learned the hard way.