The Eagles gained 232 net yards Thursday night in their season-opening victory over the Atlanta Falcons. The two teams' combined penalty yardage was 236 yards.
When people talk about games being "unwatchable," this is the sort of thing they have in mind. On the very first snap, Atlanta was called for a false start, the first of 15 penalties for 135 yards for the Falcons, their highest total since 1990.
NFL reporter-researcher Rick Gosselin tweeted that only one NFL game in 2017 included 26 penalties, and in that contest, between Tampa Bay and Miami, the assessments totaled only 205 yards.
"Some should have been called and some shouldn't have been called," Falcons safety Ricardo Allen said afterward. "It is what it is and we have to address the style of play."
Not one penalty Thursday had anything to do with the NFL's much-discussed helmet-hit rule. There was a roughing-the-passer penalty on Atlanta, however, that seemed to reflect the new decree that a pass-rusher can't use his weight to slam the quarterback into the ground. This was enacted after Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone last season when a tackle turned into a body slam.
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It's debatable whether Atlanta's Grady Jarrett really did anything but fall victim to the law of gravity when he took down Nick Foles on Thursday night, but that is the rule and that is the way they're going to call the rule, and Eagles fans should brace themselves for similar injustices their team's aggressive pass-rushers are sure to suffer as the season continues. This change could have a bigger impact on games than the helmet rule; Rodgers could be the Buster Posey of football.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson was asked at his day-after news conference if the officials were just extremely zealous, or what.
"No, the penalties were warranted," Pederson said. His team was penalized 11 times for 101 yards, seven of them for 66 yards in the first half.
Pederson did take issue with a punt on which offsetting penalties were assessed; as the game broadcast noted, both penalties should have been called on Atlanta, something you could tell because the Eagles penalty was announced as being against "No. 39," The Eagles don't have a player with that number. The Falcons' 39, Deante Burton, was shown on replay to have held.
"I think the one that was a little crazy was the punt that we had — there was some confusion on the jersey number and the actual holding call, and it's a play we'll send in and get a ruling on it. … But the other ones are — listen, the other ones were warranted. Our guys are not coached that way. The holding call on [Jason] Kelce, the pre-snap lining up offsides by Derek [Barnett], those are things we can continue to fix.
"Even the special-teams penalties we can coach and teach off of that and get our players in better position to not make those down the road."
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Barnett, the Eagles' second-year starting defensive end, was offside twice, each time negating a teammate's sack.
The penalty that almost cost the Eagles the game, though, was the illegal contact whistled against middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, at the end of a tremendous performance, in his first game back from a torn Achilles' tendon, suffered last Oct. 23.
Hicks bumped a receiver coming up the middle, on a Falcons fourth-and-goal from the Eagles' 10. Matt Ryan was trying to hit Julio Jones in the back of the end zone. Jones was covered and Ryan threw the ball long. But the penalty gave Atlanta one more shot, from the 5, with one second remaining. Jones caught this one, out of bounds on the left side of the end zone.
"As ticky-tack as I feel that call was, I can't put our team in that situation," said Hicks, who notched 1.5 sacks and made five solo tackles. "I have to be more disciplined. I can't put my hands on him. I know they're going to be looking for that call. So that's on me."