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Saturday's NFL: Crackdown on taunting is working the way the NFL intended

Rob Maaddi
Associated Press

The NFL’s crackdown on unsportsmanlike penalties is working the way the league intended.

Officials threw 11 flags for taunting in the first two weeks of this season – the same number called in the entire 2020 season for the same foul – but only three over the next three weeks.

Eagles defensive end Genard Avery received a 15-yard taunting penalty in Thursday's game against the Buccaneers.

“We’re right where we need to be and we’re now seeing the correction we were looking for,” NFL executive Troy Vincent told The Associated Press. “We saw the spike the first three weeks and now we’re seeing the decline.

"The coaches and the NFL Competition Committee are pleased. Coaches have told us their players are adjusting, they’re thinking about what they’re going to do, knowing it may cost the team. These are game-changing penalties for a selfish act.”

Week 6 kicked off with a taunting penalty occurring in an important moment during a prime-time game, adding to the widespread scrutiny over the rule.

Players, media and fans have been critical. But the league has no plans to tell officials to back off because the goal is to eliminate foul actions that result from gesturing and in-your-face trash-talking.

After the Philadelphia Eagles rallied from a 21-point deficit against the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers to cut the score to 28-22 with 3:05 left in the fourth quarter Thursday night, the defense needed to stop Tom Brady and Tampa Bay’s offense to give the ball back to Jalen Hurts and a rejuvenated offense.

On first down from the Buccaneers 25, Leonard Fournette gained only 2 yards but linebacker Genard Avery stared at him and went face to face with the running back as he stood up, drawing a flag for taunting. The 15-yard penalty gave the Buccaneers a first down and they eventually ran out the clock.

Avery’s transgression seemed mild, so the NFL drew even more criticism for making taunting calls a point of emphasis this season.

The league’s decision to emphasize these calls came directly from the NFL Competition Committee and the Coaches’ Subcommittee. Members from both groups include team owners, presidents, general managers and coaches, including Mike Tomlin, Ron Rivera and Andy Reid.

“The coaches felt over the last few years it had gotten out of control. We cannot move away from sportsmanship being the core of our game,” said Vincent, a six-time Pro Bowl cornerback who now serves as the league’s executive vice president of football operations.

“Sportsmanship has always been the core. The rules are very clear. Don’t do it toward the opponent’s sideline or at the opponent. That doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate, you can’t have fun, you can’t have spontaneous actions.

"You can jump, flip, celebrate. You just can’t do it at an opponent. It leads to bad outcomes like players spitting at each other’s face, players throwing punches and fighting, players kicking and stomping one other. Make a play like a professional and get back in the huddle. You can have fun, but you cannot get in another player’s face. It leads to bad outcomes.”

Even though Avery’s actions weren’t over the top, the penalty was called according to the rule.

Eagles coach Nick Sirianni had no problem with the officials.

“Again, that was unacceptable and that falls on me first,” he said. “I have to do a better job getting everybody doing the right things out there and keeping our composure out there.”

Fournette knew he couldn’t retaliate against Avery because officials are looking for unsportsmanlike behavior more than ever.

“Imagine if I would’ve said something back, (the penalty) could’ve went both ways and my team would’ve been looking at me crazy and the loss would’ve been on me,” he said.

Fournette acknowledged he may have engaged Avery if the Buccaneers were winning big but added: “In a critical moment like that, knowing we need this game, no.”

Hall president Baker retiring

Pro Football Hall of Fame President David Baker has announced his retirement.

Baker, 68, had served in the role of president and executive director since January 2014. Jim Porter, 57, the Hall’s chief marketing and communications officer since April 2020, has been named president and will oversee all daily business operations.

Baker will continue to represent the Hall of Fame at Ring of Excellence ceremonies honoring members of the 2020 and 2021 classes at NFL stadiums for the remainder of the presentation schedule.

“As I approach the end of nearly eight years of service to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I have come to the conclusion that it is time for someone else to have the best job in the world so I can still do a few more exciting things in my professional life,” Baker said Saturday in a statement.

Baker plans to return home to Orange County, California, to be with family and pursue business projects there and in Nevada.

Extra points

The Colts activated receiver T.Y. Hilton from injured reserve in time for Sunday’s game against Houston but will not have kicker Rodrigo Blankenship.

Indy put Blankenship on injured reserve on Saturday with a hip injury. He will be out at least three weeks. Michael Badgley will replace Blankenship after being signed to the practice squad earlier this week.

Hilton has been on IR since early September, but he returned to practice Wednesday. The Colts are hoping the four-time Pro Bowler will be able to make his season debut against the division rival Texans.

... The Panthers have placed running back Christian McCaffrey on injured reserve, meaning he will miss at least the next three games with a hamstring injury.

McCaffrey already has missed two games, both Carolina losses.

The earliest he will be able to return to game action is Nov. 7 against the New England Patriots. McCaffrey will have missed 18 of 24 games with injuries since becoming the league’s highest-paid running back following the 2019 season.

The Panthers (3-2) host the Minnesota Vikings (2-3) on Sunday.

... The Titans will have outside linebacker Bud Dupree back for the first time in three games when they host the Buffalo Bills on Monday night.

The Titans did not have an injury designation Saturday on their final injury report for Dupree, who practiced fully after sitting out Friday. They will be without starting cornerback Kristian Fulton, whose hamstring kept him out of practice all week.

Dupree was Tennessee’s biggest free agent signing this offseason despite tearing his right ACL last December while playing for Pittsburgh. Dupree returned during training camp and started the season.

But Dupree said last week that his mind and pride got ahead of his recovery a bit. The Titans held him out of a win over Indianapolis, then scratched the linebacker in the past two games.

The Titans (3-2) also declared rookie linebacker Monty Rice out against Buffalo (4-1) with an injured groin.

Left guard Rodger Saffold, who left last week’s win in Jacksonville with an injured shoulder, was limited all week in practice but will play.

Fullback Khari Blasingame (shoulder), running back Jeremy McNichols (ankle) and wide receiver Chester Rogers (groin) are questionable.