Why you should care
Because more penalties mean even longer football games.
Searching for a new head coach this offseason, the Buffalo Bills knew exactly what they were getting when they picked the fiery Rex Ryan: defensive smarts and someone who likes a good fight. So it wasn’t all that surprising when in August, he signed an exiled linebacker who had broke his previous quarterback’s jaw in a locker room brawl. Perhaps it isn’t surprising, either, that lack of discipline and aggression have bled onto the field:
Four games into the season, the Bills have racked up
penalties, putting the team on track to shatter the single-season record for most flags.
Indeed, the zebras are getting quite the arm workout when the red, white and blue roll through. Buffalo has been called for nine more errors than the next teams in line, the Tampa Bay Bucs and, you guessed it, the Oakland Raiders. At this rate, by the end of the season, the bad-boy Bills will finish with upward of 188 penalties for 1,712 yards. The record, in contrast, is a measly 163, set in 2011 by, you guessed it, the Oakland Raiders. “Give me a team that’s got some fight,” barked Ryan after the Bills amassed a rather impressive 17 penalties last week alone.
To be fair to Rex’s Bills, flags are flying everywhere in the league this year. This is for a few reasons: For starters, about a fifth of the league’s whistleblowers have less than two years on the job. The NFL enforcers have also cracked down on safety, particularly going after taunts, fighting and dangerous blocks. It’s common to have one or two hot-button infractions, says Ben Austro, founder of Football Zebras, a website that tracks NFL officiating. But what we’re seeing is even more heavy-handed than usual. “It frustrates a lot of fans,” Austro says. Indeed, all this extra time spent on officiating is stretching the games to an almost unbearable length, with the average game now three hours and 11 minutes. That’s five minutes slower than last year, without a single overtime game so far (there were five at this point last year).
Even the Rexinator has had enough of the madness. At practice this week, he instituted a new rule: For every penalty, everyone has to do 10 pushups. Then again, that was shortly after the coach pointed out that the Seattle Seahawks wore the crown for most penalties in the year they won the Super Bowl. (Interestingly, this year, the Hawks have the cleanest record in the league.)