Don't blame Cam Newton or Trent Murphy for the uproar and confusion over a borderline hit Monday night. Blame the NFL.
The hit came during Monday's Panthers road win in Washington as Cam Newton ran with the ball. As the 2015 MVP approached the sideline, he slid, only that didn't stop Murphy from launching himself at Newton.
Would've been a tough penalty b/c Murphy started his tackle before Cam started his slide, but still 100% a penalty.https://t.co/gQYbM8YlVG— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurkeNFL) December 20, 2016
While the players tangled on the sideline, a flag flew up, and at first glance it seemed obvious Murphy would get penalized for going in on Newton as he slid. Then, upon replay, it became more obvious that while it was slight, Murphy made contact with Newton's head.
Only the flag was not on Murphy; instead the penalty was for Newton. The quarterback's actions were certainly worthy of a penalty - he threw the football into Murphy's face, a blatant taunt - and Newton knew he made a mistake.
"I thought it was a questionable hit, but yeah, I can’t throw a ball at a person. I know that’s against the rules.”
Newton definitely deserved the flag for the taunt, but most observers would expect offsetting penalties after Murphy's hit. Asked about the play on Tuesday, Redskins coach Jay Gruden seemed to share in the confusion.
"It was kind of like a bang-bang type play. I thought the flag could have gone either way," Gruden said. "That’s the way it is with a lot of flags nowadays. I don’t know. I just wait for them to call it and I accept whatever they call. If I can challenge it, I’ll challenge it. If not, it is what it is."
That so many people have gotten upset about the call underlies the ambiguity of NFL referreeing. From week to week, it's near impossible to know for certain what constitutes a catch, a defenseless receiver, or in this case, a quarterback sliding or a quarterback becoming a runner. Combine that with the fact that Newton has repeatedly complained that NFL refs don't protect him like other passers, and it's hard to look at the hit from Murphy as just one play.
Additionally, it's not undeniably clear that Murphy's actions warranted a penalty. When Murphy launched for the hit, Newton had not begun his slide, and the contact might have been inadvertent. That said, nine times out of 10, it seems the NFL will call that to protect a QB.
"I really didn’t think Trent went after his head," Gruden said. "I was going to yell at the ref if he called that on Trent. I was happy that he called it on Cam. Whether that was a penalty or not, I don’t know, but that’s what they called, so, so be it."
Welcome to the NFL in 2016, where nobody knows what makes a penalty, not even the refs.
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