San Francisco 49ers safety Donte Whitner was flagged 15 yards for an illegal contact call against Atlanta Falcons running back Steven Jackson Monday night, a penalty that kept a drive alive and ended with a Falcons touchdown.
Whitner was not happy about the call.
“I didn’t lead with the crown of my helmet,” Whitner told the San Francisco Chronicle. “He wasn’t defenseless; I led with my shoulder and hit him in the chest. So I don’t know what else you want me to do.”
So should illegal contact penalties be reviewable?
On the one hand, more reviewable plays mean—obviously—more reviews, which will slow games down.
But the call can be so devastating to a defense. At best, the 15 yards flips field position and allows a team another series of downs. At worst, it can have the effect it had Monday night, leading to a touchdown when a replay shows that Whitner didn’t commit a foul.
Officials have been tasked with protecting players on the field and they’ve been instructed to err on the side of player safety. When in doubt, whip it out (the penalty flag that is).
Considering that the NFL is considering handling all reviews from a centralized location, perhaps the illegal contact penalties could be subject to automatic review in much the same way touchdowns and turnovers are presently.
In the time it takes the officials to huddle to discuss the penalty, a replay reviewer could get a signal to the referee to say yes or no about whether the foul should be assessed.
It doesn’t slow the game down appreciably and it doesn’t penalize players for making legal plays that look violent in real time.
Seems like a logical step that might assuage some of the sentiment out there that the game is becoming too soft.