If Tom Brady thought the referees were bad on Thursday Night Football, wait until he sees what happened in the Atlanta Falcons game on Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.
Just before halftime, Falcons safety Keanu Neal went down with a non-contact injury in the end zone. The 24-year-old could not get up and tossed his helmet while writhing on the ground in pain and sobbing after sustaining what was later declared to be a torn Achilles.
Neal hobbled off the field with some help and was eventually carted away, but not before he was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Because Neal took his helmet off, the referees threw a flag on the play despite the fact that it was done out of frustration over a serious injury.
The Colts accepted the 15-yard penalty, which brought them to the 4-yard line, and they scored two plays later.
According to the NFL rulebook, unsportsmanlike penalty is given if “removal of his helmet by a player in the field or the end zone during a celebration or demonstration, or during a confrontation with a game official or any other player.”
Based on that language, throwing a flag on Neal seems to be a bit of a reach. He was neither celebrating nor confronting anyone. Perhaps the officials considered it a “demonstration,” but even that is a bit of questionable considering the circumstances.
It was a season-ending injury for Neal, which could have ramifications on the rest of his career. He sustained an ACL tear after Week 1 last year and now has two significant injuries that have kept off the field two consecutive seasons.
The NFL spoke to the referees on the excessive amount of holding penalties after Brady’s tweet on Thursday night, and may have to address situations involving injured players next as scrutiny of officials continues.