The Kansas City Chiefs and their fans are not new to controversial officiating calls that seem to turn the momentum of a game. A few weeks ago, Arrowhead Stadium erupted when defensive tackle Chris Jones drew a questionable call for roughing the passer.
But there’s another layer to a missed call when it involves the health and safety of an individual player.
During the Chiefs’ 27-17 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster went down after a hard hit in the second quarter. Jaguars safety Andre Cisco landed high when coming in contact with Smith-Schuster, making helmet-to-helmet contact and causing the wide receiver to drop the ball. Trainers surrounded him for minutes before he was helped to the sideline and locker room, ultimately entering the league’s concussion protocol.
To no one’s surprise, a flag was thrown on the play. But then officials picked it up.
That’s when Kansas City’s sideline erupted. Head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes led the plea for the penalty to stand.
“As long as there is contact to the head, it doesn’t need to be in the game,” Reid told reporters after the final whistle. “It looked like there was contact to the head from where I was standing.”
“Obviously, I don’t think there was any ill intent from the player,” Mahomes noted to the press in his post-game media availability. “He was just trying to knock the ball loose. Obviously, there was some helmet-to-helmet contact. We want to get that out of the league as much as possible for player safety.”
A few reactions to JuJu Smith-Schuster being knocked out the game.— PJ Green (@PJGreenTV) November 13, 2022
Justin Reid: "We were pissed."
MVS: "Are they really protecting us?"
Isiah Pacheco: "It brought tears to my eyes.#Chiefs pic.twitter.com/DvN8VFvx9j
Beyond the 15 yards gained — and the ability to resume a possession — the Chiefs saw their teammate absorb an overly-physical hit. Plenty of players expressed frustration to the cameras after the game — even the player who has been Smith-Schuster’s teammate for the least amount of time.
“I was angry,” wide receiver Kadarius Toney told reporters. “I was kind of mad because I don’t really like dirty plays. I feel like it gave the team a boost; it gave us something to play for, I guess you could say.”
Just like some Chiefs players did, the officiating crew initially felt there was malicious intent; they threw the flag — and then withdrew it. In an interview with ESPN’s Adam Teicher after the game, referee Brad Rogers gave his explanation for how it played out.
“The defender had set and braced for impact and hit shoulder into shoulder, they didn’t feel it was a use of helmet foul.”
“He was in a defenseless posture, but they didn’t feel that there was any use of helmet foul on that.”
When it was explained to him during the game, Reid didn’t agree with that reasoning. The veteran he coach has seen a lot, so he tried to insert some common sense into the officials’ thought process.
“It’s not good, it’s not a good feeling at all,” said Reid. “That’s what I tried to explain to the officials: guys don’t get hit in the shoulder and lay around like that, there’s more to it somewhere. The head was involved. That’s what the rule is put in for — for that type of thing.”
Mahomes says #Chiefs JuJu Smith-Schuster (concussion) was “his normal self” postgame— Aaron Ladd (@aaronladd0) November 13, 2022
Fortunately, the post-game signs point to Smith-Schuster’s status being more positive than negative — but as they continued playing, Chiefs players didn’t know that. At the time of the injury, they still had an entire two quarters remaining. That kind of time can be fuel for emotional teammates.
“It makes me really go harder,” explained Toney. “Seeing him on the ground? It made me mad; it made me angry. It took a different kind of emotion out of me, because I don’t really like seeing my teammates down.”
Toney used that feeling to carry the receiving load in Smith-Schuster’s absence, racking up 57 yards and a touchdown on four receptions.
Smith-Schuster’s new teammate is only one of the many players who did not agree with how the NFL’s rules were applied in this incident. It’s one thing for the opposing team to do it — but if the league lets it slide, it is made much worse.
In essence, Cisco was enabled. Later in the game, he made another violent hit on Chiefs wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who was examined after the safety nailed him during an attempted catch..
If defenders aren’t held responsible for the hits that truly are over the top — that is, illegal — it makes them more comfortable to continue making them.
That’s the message Kansas City’s players and coaches want to get across.