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Ron Rivera on taunting penalties: You can celebrate, but we’re trying to prevent a brawl

Ryan Fitzpatrick is still on the shelf for a few more weeks, but Peter King argues that Taylor Heinicke looked good enough in Thursday's win over the Giants to be WFT's starting QB for the rest of the season.

As one of the members of the NFL’s competition committee, Washington head coach Ron Rivera has a say in the points of emphasis for officials during the season.

Through two weeks, the emphasis on taunting fouls has drawn significant criticism — including from NFL players association president J.C. Tretter. So far, officials have thrown 11 flags for taunting, which is the same number of taunting fouls that were handed out in the entire 2020 season. Even Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said that while point of emphasis was a good thought, it’s hard to manage it.

On Tuesday, Rivera addressed some of the criticism by saying the purpose of the point of emphasis was to prevent small things from becoming big issues.

“We’ve had this example where one guy taunts a guy and then the guy comes back for a little payback and the next thing you know, you’ve got a big fight on your hands,” Rivera said, via Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post. “You’ve got guys coming from left field hitting each other. And that’s really what, to me I think, the referees are relevant for — they’re just trying to get it quieted down. And that’s really what — I mean, you can do the celebration. They sent a tape out explaining exactly what’s taunting and what’s not. I think if you look at the tape and you follow the tape, then it makes sense.

“I mean, I’m all for the celebrations. Remember, we [with the Panthers] 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.

“And, again, whether we want to [be] or not, we are examples. We’re role models. So if you’re going to do something, do it within the rules. Get up and do your ball drop, do your dab, or your dance, or whatever. But don’t do it toward somebody. Don’t step over somebody or drag your leg over somebody. That’s what we’re trying to prevent.”

Rivera added that players can still do all kinds of things to celebrate — as long as they’re not directed at an opponent.

“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. Because that’s the other thing, we don’t want that. This is a great sport. We’ve got a great fan base. People enjoy watching the games. And there are some that like watching the fights, but we don’t need the fights. We really don’t. And we don’t need anybody getting hurt unnecessarily.”

The problem becomes that sometimes what might initially look like taunting really isn’t — so the point of emphasis puts all opposing player interactions at risk. So until anything changes, players have to be cognizant of the fact that any gesture that appears directed toward an opponent could cost his team 15 yards.