Thanksgiving at AT&T Stadium turned into laundry day.
Flags spilled onto the turf non-stop for almost four hours as the Cowboys hosted the Raiders. The officiating crew led by referee Shawn Hochuli, son of Ed, produced 28 accepted penalties — 14 for each team — for 276 total yards (a franchise-record 166 against Dallas). The calls ranged from obvious false starts to an esoteric foul on Raiders center Andre James for a head bob. Dallas defensive back Anthony Brown was flagged four times for pass interference, with the last one setting up Las Vegas to win 36-33 in overtime.
One of the more curious calls was roughing the passer on Cowboys rookie linebacker Micah Parsons in the third quarter. He tapped a falling Raiders QB Derek Carr on the helmet after Carr threw a pass to Hunter Renfrow. Carr’s head then made incidental contact with Parsons’ knee.
Parsons spoke for a lot of players and fans with his assessment of the play and the crew’s flag-happy nature.
“We should be playing football, not tag,” Parsons said. “I’m not here to support anybody and play tag like he’s my best friend. I’ve got a job to do and I see [Carr is] outside the pocket, so I’m going after the quarterback.”
“At the end of the day, football is an aggressive game and you’re going to attack the ball and you’re going to play through the ball and you’re going to play the defender,” Parsons said later. “At the end of the day, it’s going to come to a point in time . . . when are you truly going to let us play?”
It was a rhetorical question, but Parsons wouldn’t receive a satisfactory answer if he made a direct query to the league office. The NFL is intent on keeping quarterbacks — and then everyone else on the field — healthy. That means calls like the roughing penalty.
A frustrated Cowboys owner/GM Jerry Jones sure wished the zebras had let ’em play more, especially with regard to the PI penalties.
“This is not a criticism of the rule. It is a criticism of the discretion of how you use them in play,” Jones said, per Jon Machota of The Athletic.
“Oakland (sic) took advantage of the situation,” Jones said. “I call it ‘throw-up ball.’ Right way to play it in a game like this [is] just throw it out there and get a penalty.”
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy, who’s a fan of not being fined by the league, kept it short and sweet when he was asked about the flagfest.
“Twenty-eight penalties — I don’t know what the hell you want me to say,” he said. “Write what you want; I’m all for it.”
It wouldn’t surprise Parsons, Jones or McCarthy to learn that Hochuli’s crew throws the most flags in the league. According to pro-football-reference.com‘s stats, the crew had called 135 penalties in its previous 10 games this season, with 66 against home teams and 69 against visiting teams. After Thursday, the total was up to 163, which, according to nflpenalties.com’s totals, put it No. 1 among officiating crews with the remainder of Week 12 to play. The three-flag difference between home and road didn’t change.
And while the officials stayed true to form Thursday, they didn’t come that close to making league history. The NFL record for penalties by both teams is 37, set by the Browns (21) and Bears (16) on Nov. 25, 1951. The most since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger is 35, by the expansion Buccaneers (20) and Seahawks (15) on Oct. 17, 1976.