COMMENTARY

Panthers’ final home game turns into Flag Day

Penalties — real and phantom — had major impact on game’s pace

The Charlotte ObserverDecember 24, 2012 

— I ATE A press box hot dog Sunday. I know hot dogs are not healthy, but Sunday was the final Carolina Panthers home game and I didn’t want to be rude.

Still, I didn’t expect to be penalized. The official threw the flag and offered a terse explanation: Personal foul, devouring a defenseless piece of meat.

There was a lot of defenseless-ness going on at Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers were penalized 10 times for 97 yards, Oakland six for 70. Six personal fouls were called, along with a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

The Panthers came in as the league’s ninth-least penalized team. The Raiders were 22nd.

On one play there were as many flags on the field as there were officials.

“It was flag-happy,” Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson said.

The game, which the Panthers won 17-6, moved like a road full of orange construction cones. The game was tough to watch and tougher to play.

Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis was asked about a first-quarter personal foul charged to teammate Greg Hardy for a hit that knocked Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer out of the game.

Although Hardy did not hit Palmer in the head, he appeared to lead with his helmet. Officials will call that every time. And they should.

Davis disagreed.

“You saw what happened,” he said. “Hardy hit the quarterback hard, so that’s why he caught the penalty.”

“The way we’re getting fined and the way that they’re making these calls it kind of makes you hesitate when you’re going to make a tackle because you don’t want to hit a guy too hard and you don’t want to get that penalty … So it definitely takes the edge off a little bit.”

Some of the calls made sense. How do you change the NFL’s head-first tackling culture if you don’t throw the flag?

But two calls were incomprehensible.

One was an unnecessary roughness penalty against Oakland rookie linebacker Miles Burris for hitting Carolina tight end Greg Olsen, who apparently was defenseless. Burris did nothing but make a tackle.

The other call was against Carolina rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly for a hit on Oakland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who also was deemed defenseless.

After the yellow flag flew, Kuechly was livid. Suddenly, he couldn’t be blocked. He was video-game good.

When I asked about the call, Kuechly did everything but invite the refs to his house for eggnog.

“It’s not like its slow motion for the referees,” Kuechly said. “They’ve got a tough job and you know it’s easy when you look at the screen (and guess) ah, maybe it was good, maybe it wasn’t. But they called a great game they kept everybody under control.”

Then there was the call against Carolina quarterback Cam Newton. Oakland safety Mike Mitchell took Newton to the ground after he released the ball and — get this — a penalty was not called. Newton jumped up and made contact with referee Jerome Boger.

Boger said he penalized Newton for “disrespectfully addressing” him, not for the contact.

When there is contact between a player and an official, it’s supposed to result in an automatic ejection.

The official should have been ejected.

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