Jordan Matthews was hit so hard by Atlanta Falcons safety Keanu Neal that he needed a new facemask and visor.
There were no flags on the play.
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The Eagles should have had first down at the Falcons’ 20-yard line after the obvious helmet-to-helmet hit during the second half of Sunday’s victory. Instead, the Birds settled for a long field goal, which was missed, keeping the Falcons in the game at the time.
Circumstances of the game notwithstanding, the Eagles were livid. How in the world is this not a penalty?!?!
Dean Blandino is the NFL’s SVP of officiating and while he is active on Twitter to explain certain calls on Sundays — he did a lengthy breakdown of the final play in the Denver win at New Orleans this week — and/yet/but/still there was zero explanation from him, or their heavily promoted @NFLFootballOps account, as to why Neal wasn’t flagged for hitting a defenseless receiver with the crown of his helmet.
After the game, Matthews told reporters in the locker room that he definitely thought it was a penalty, saying, “my helmet was bent. I had to get a new facemask. They had to change out my facemask and my visor. I don’t know what they saw, but at the end of the day we got the win so I’ll take a bloody lip if we get the win.”
When asked if he got an explanation from the officials after the play, Matthews said, “they didn’t see much of the game, so they probably didn’t see me go over there,” to get his helmet fixed. Burn.
Doug Pederson declined to comment about the non-call after the game, glibly smiling while saying “no comment, next question.” And he’s right not to say anything, because the league protects its officials to the point of fining head coaches if they speak out against bad calls. Here was Pederson’s reaction after the play, which makes it easy to understand why he didn’t want to comment after the game.
That play didn’t decide the game, as Ryan Mathews had a huge day on the ground, which led the Eagles to a 24-15 victory over the Falcons, but the hit on Matthews is almost a bigger story than the play of Mathews this Monday, and certainly the larger concern for the NFL.
Clearly, it’s an enormous concern for fans, all over the league.
Player safety is a regular talking point for commissioner Roger Goodell, but the discussion rings hollow when plays like the hit on Matthews go unpunished during the game. There is speculation that Neal could get fined for the blow, but what good does that do to deter players from making these kinds of hits during the game? Those fines are never enough to make a player stop leading with his helmet. Even penalties don’t stop players, but they still have to be properly called.
Some fans have gone so far as to suggest the league is somehow in favor of hits like this, and the lack of flags gets people talking the next day (case in point) which continues to keep the NFL in the headlines.
That, or the league is always rigged when a call goes against the Eagles.
But rigged or not, plays like this have become a factor contributing to people not wanting to watch pro football anymore. Attendance has suffered for a few seasons as tickets have become more expensive and the home-viewing experience has improved. But the viewership is down this season for the first time in years, and the NFL is left scrambling in trying to figure out why.
Is it because people are sick of seeing hits like this go unpunished?
Or maybe…it’s the opposite.
Penalties are up in the NFL over the last few seasons, and there are far too many stops and starts to an NFL game, both for commercials and for penalties. The league instituted more stringent illegal contact and defensive holding penalties a few years ago in hopes the league would course correct and stop committing those fouls. Instead, the flags have increased, but the violations haven’t ceased. People are actually mad there are too many fouls, so when a play like the hit on Matthews happens, the league is paralyzed.
Are there too many penalties or not enough? Make up your minds, America.
So it’s both, then? Or, is it neither.
That conversation wasn’t even about the NFL! Phew, this is confusing.
Thankfully Matthews was able to continue playing, but this conversation itself will continue long after Sunday’s game. Speaking of which, each Eagles Monday we take a look at the seven things people are still talking about the day after the Eagles game. While hit on Matthews will linger far beyond Monday morning, here are a few more quick notes about the game you can use at your watercooler or on Slack to make yourself sound like a football genius.
‘Ryan Mathews’ 109 yards: The best since WHEN?!!?’
We wrote Sunday about Mathews’ performance, rushing for 109 yards and two scores in one of the five best games of his career, without question his best game in Eagles green.
What we didn’t mention was how long the Eagles went without a 100-yard rusher. Sunday’s win over the Falcons marked the first time a single rusher eclipsed the century mark since October 19, 2015 when DeMarco Murray rushed for 112 yards in a win over the New York Giants.
That’s a span of 20 games.
‘Home cooking, especially on defense’
The Eagles are undefeated at home this season, thanks in large part to the defense.
Through nine games, the Eagles are averaging 23.6 points per game on the road and 26 points at home. They are giving up 24.4 points on the road and just 9.5 at home. The Eagles’ remaining home games are against Green Bay, Washington, New York and Dallas.
‘The Red Zone offense needs to improve under Pederson’
Caleb Sturgis attempted five field goals on Sunday, making three, with two of his makes coming from inside 30 yards.
The Eagles were 2-for-4 in red zone efficiency on Sunday, opting to kick a field goal from the two yard line instead of trying to go for it on fourth down (again); a decision that actually helped secure the win.
After the game, Pederson admitted that he changed his mind about kicking the field goal near the goal line during a timeout. “It just gave us more time to think about the situation,” he said about the decision to kick. “There was an opportunity there. My gut instinct was to go for it.”
He opted to send out Sturgis, which proved to be the correct call. Still, the inability to punch the ball in on third-and-inches is troublesome, especially as the Eagles head to Seattle next week. The Seahawks beat the New England Patriots on Sunday with a series of last-minute goal line stands.
‘The Eagles are the most penalized team in the NFC’
The Eagles won Sunday despite another game with double-digit penalties.
Through nine games, the Eagles and Los Angeles Rams are tied with 75 penalties, the most in the NFC. The Oakland Raiders lead the NFL with 94 penalties and 112 total flags.
The Eagles have fewer flags than the Rams (81 to 88), but 10 of the Rams’ calls were declined and three were offsetting, to just six declined penalties for the Eagles.
The birds have benefitted from just 60 flags this season, one of the worst rates in the NFL.
‘Third-down defense won this game’
Mathews was very good and the offensive line was great at giving Carson Wentz time and opening holes for the running backs, but the Eagles held the best offense in football to just 15 points and 11 first downs on Sunday because of their ability to get off the field.
The Eagles held the Falcons to 2-of-11 on third down and 0-of-1 on fourth down in the game.
Philly had the ball for 38:10 to just 21:50 for Atlanta, in part because Jim Schwartz’s crew kept getting big stops short of the sticks on third down.
‘The playoff picture isn’t any clearer’
Monday night the Bengals travel to New Jersey to face the Giants, a game that could have huge playoff ramifications in both conferences.
Dallas won a thriller in Pittsburgh Sunday afternoon to advance to 8-1. New York sits at 5-3, while Washington is 5-3-1. A win for the Giants will be huge in the NFC East, and the Wild Card.
The NFC North is a mess. Detroit is 5-4 and in first place. Minnesota was 5-0 and is now 5-4 and reeling. Green Bay is worse, now at 4-5.
The Falcons dropped to 6-4 in the South, but the Saints and Panthers couldn’t make up any ground, both losing as well. New Orleans is tied with Tampa at 4-5 while the defending NFC champs are 3-6.
The West is Seattle’s to lose, as the Seahawks improved to 6-2-1 with Sunday night’s win at New England. Arizona is 4-4 after a narrow win against San Francisco, who dropped to 1-8 in Chip Kelly’s first year. The Rams are 4-5.
So what does that all mean for the Eagles? It means they better hope Detroit wins the North, because they hold the tiebreaker over the Vikings but not the Lions. It also means they better hope the Giants lose, a lot, and Arizona doesn’t get hot.
Right now the NFC East would have three playoff teams. The problem is, none of them are the Eagles.