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Pereira: Cardinals’ Isaiah Simmons didn’t deserve flag for Cam Newton hit

New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton, front, scrambles away from Arizona Cardinals linebackers De'Vondre Campbell, left, and Kylie Fitts in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Isaiah Simmons’ penalty gave the New England Patriots 15 yards of field position and set up the Arizona Cardinals’ loss by way of a Nick Folk field goal Sunday.

Those are facts.

What isn’t so clear is why Simmons was flagged for a hit on Patriots quarterback Cam Newton at all.

While the officials did not detail the specifics for the penalty in the moment, the call went in the game book as an unnecessary roughness penalty.

Newton was barely still in bounds as he picked up a first down on 3rd-and-13, but in real time it’s possible referees thought he had stepped out. He ended the play on the ground after Simmons walloped him with some helmet contact.

Simmons hit Newton at the New England 46-yard line. With less than a minute left to play, the 15-yard penalty moved the ball to Arizona’s 39-yard line.

Folk hit his 50-yard field goal to win it for New England at the buzzer, 20-17.

Per the NFL’s official rule book, it appears officials could have (correctly or not) pointed to either Section 2, Article 8(g) or 8(i) as a reasons to call the foul as unnecessary roughness:

(g) unnecessarily running, diving into, cutting, or throwing the body against or on a player who (1) is out of the play or (2) should not have reasonably anticipated such contact by an opponent, before or after the ball is dead;

(i) using any part of a player’s helmet or facemask to butt, spear, or ram an opponent (Note: This provision does not prohibit incidental contact by the mask or the helmet in the course of a conventional tackle or block on an opponent).

FOX’s NFL officiating analyst Mike Pereira, who joined Arizona Sports’ Doug & Wolf on Monday, does not believe the play warranted a flag.

“It’s not an illegal use of the helmet foul. To me he doesn’t lower the head to initiate contact, never gets in that linear position they are looking for when they put the rule in,” Pereira said.

“It was a tough hit, but it’s not a foul. I just can’t put that into any category as being a foul,” Pereira added. “I don’t even know what they called. The announcement they made, at least that we heard, was a personal foul. What’s that mean? They didn’t say it was a late hit out of bounds and they didn’t say it was an illegal use of the helmet because that’s its own foul.”

Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury said Monday he still hadn’t heard clarification about what officials thought they saw on the play.

“Not yet, but I saw it as you did. It’s close,” Kingsbury said. “We understand in this league they’re going to protect the quarterbacks — that was a big, running quarterback. It was a close play.”

Now the Cardinals must walk a fine line in coaching up their rookie first-round pick while maintaining his aggressiveness.

Simmons was called for a prior flag for lowering his head into a Patriots player earlier in the game. That play, which was probably the correct call, also saw him fail to wrap up with his arms.

Outside linebacker Markus Golden said that he isn’t worried about Simmons moving on from the twin fouls.

“He come to work working hard. Him doing that everyday, he’s going to be alright,” Golden said Sunday. “Long as he keeps doing that, he’ll be OK and be able to fix it.”

Simmons closed the game with six tackles and a sack. Again, for good measure, his final penalty probably wasn’t on a list of the top five things that lost Arizona the game.

Plus, the officials had given the Cardinals a beneficial call in the third quarter by nixing New England’s 82-yard punt return touchdown on an apparent blindside block.

That early third-quarter play saved the Cardinals four points as the Patriots later settled for a field goal.

“The blindside block, I think that was not the right call,” Pereira said.


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