In a sports world that has been forever changed by highlight shows and social media, it becomes really easy for a storyline surrounding a game to become overdone.
For the Chicago Bears on Sunday, the biggest potential narrative that seemingly everyone focused on was the matchup between brothers Chris and Kyle Long, a pair of first round draft picks who would be taking the field on opposite sides of the ball for the first time in their lives as opponents.
The drama was built up in the run-up to the game too, with Fox television analyst Howie Long taking the day off from his duties at the pregame desk to go to St. Louis to watch the game, and during the game Fox cameras frequently would check out the suite that Long was sitting in to watch his sons do battle.
That battle hit fever pitch on a play during the second quarter of the game, when Josh McCown was hit in the pocket by Jo-Lonn Dunbar as he was preparing to throw a pass. The play ended up resulting in an incomplete pass, but that was just the beginning of the fun.
After the ball hit the turf, Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson picked up the ball and was bringing it up the field, but he ended up getting face-masked by Bears fullback Tony Fiametta as he tried to bring what he thought was a potential fumble return to a halt. Behind the play though, Kyle Long went after Rams DE William Hayes, and even went so far as to try to kick Hayes as he laid on the ground. Other Rams and Bears players quickly jumped into the skirmish, but Kyle’s brother Chris ran onto the field from the St. Louis sideline and pulled his brother away from Hayes.
At the end of the play, the officials threw three flags, and they all went against the Bears. The first was an intentional grounding penalty against McCown, because he threw the ball too far away from an eligible wide receiver and because it didn’t reach the line of scrimmage. Fiametta was also flagged for his facemask, and the third and final penalty went against Kyle Long for his role in the ensuing fracas.
Needless to say, Twitter lit up like a Christmas tree at the sight of Kyle and Chris Long both being involved in the near-brawl:
After reviewing the CHI-STL fracas again, I think it's safe to say Kyle Long is lucky he didn't get ejected - though he whiffed on the kick
— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) November 24, 2013
Howie Long on son Kyle's temper, to me this week: "If something hits a switch, he’s hard to bring back.”
— patrick finley (@patrickfinley) November 24, 2013
After seeing the reaction, and seeing what had happened on the play, a simple question begs to be answered: did the officials get their calls right, and do they deserve a share of the blame for what transpired between the two teams?
The answer to the question isn’t as cut and dried as the question, of course. Yes, McCown was guilty of intentional grounding, but Fiametta’s face-masking penalty, and quite possibly Long going after Hayes, likely would not have happened had the officials blown the play dead once the ball hit the turf. Since the ball was still technically live, the Rams kept going after it, and you ended up seeing the second and third penalties get called, but most of the shenanigans after the play would have been avoided had the crew blown their whistles like they should have.
As for whether or not Long’s personal foul penalty was deserved, the answer is an unequivocal yes. After the game, Long admitted to losing his cool on the play:
I want to apologize to the fans for losing my cool today. Not a representation of the person that I am or the Bears. Shouldn't happen.
— Kyle Long (@Ky1eLong) November 24, 2013
The fact of the matter is that Long actually should have been ejected from the game. His attempt to kick Hayes, while not successful, is something that he will certainly be fined for at some point this week, but the officials that ended up throwing the flag on him had every reason to eject him from the game for his antics. Long has had some issues this season with letting his temper get the best of him, but this is the most telling incident of all, and hopefully it will serve as a wake-up call to a rookie that has really impressed media and fans alike in a rookie season that began with him being largely dismissed as a poor selection by Phil Emery and company.
As for Chris Long coming onto the field to break up the fight, the officials did get the decision not to penalize him correct. There is no specific rule in the NFL rulebook about ejecting a player for leaving the sidelines to join a fight (that rule does exist in the NBA, with an automatic suspension for players leaving the bench, and in the NHL, which gives out a 10 game suspension for a player doing so), and since Long’s role was that of a peacemaker in the proceedings, the officials did the right thing by not penalizing him or tossing him from the game.
In the end though, much of the malarkey could have been avoided had the officials blown a play dead that was ultimately penalized as an illegal pass. Jerome Boger and his crew did plenty of whistle blowing and flag throwing throughout the rest of the game, and they should have done so in this instance too.