clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Bengals have been on wrong end of recent NFL rule changes

The Bengals got the short end of the stick in all of these situations.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

It seems like every couple of years, there's a new rule being made in the NFL that, if thought of sooner, could have saved the Bengals and their fans a lot of headache and heartache.

Bengals players have been injured, wrongfully singled out, and demonized in situations that, today, wouldn't have needed to turn into huge issues.

Heading into 2016, the Bengals don't need to worry about on-field interference from assistant coaches, unpunished cheap shots at their quarterback or players above the helmet, or players thinking that they're allowed to celebrate excessively.

But, it would have been nice if some of these rules had been a bit more clear at the time.

The Joey Porter Debacle

The incident

In the Bengals and Steelers' most recent game that just happened to be a postseason elimination match in the Wild Card round, Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter broke an unclarified rule by darting out onto the field after Antonio Brown was injured, following a helmet to helmet hit by Vontaze Burfict.

Burfict's actions were penalized, putting the Steelers at the Bengals' 32-yard line. Porter's presence on the field provoked a reaction from Adam Jones who got carried away trying to point out that Porter is not allowed on the field. Another 15 yards was given to the Steelers, who were set up for the game-winning chip shot with only 14 seconds left.

The new rule

Per ESPN's Kevin Seifert:

Head coaches are the only coaches allowed on the field during games, and it is permissible for no reason other than to check on injured players. This adjustment was aimed at Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebackers coach Joey Porter, who wandered onto the field during a Wild Card playoff game in January against the Cincinnati Bengals.

How it could have helped

Best-case scenario, Porter's actions are penalized correctly by the officials before Jones reacts and commits the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. In that case, his penalty would have offset Burfict's penalty and first down on the Bengals' 47 would have been replayed. With no Antonio Brown, who knows if the Steelers would have been able to continue driving the ball with the same efficiency and only seconds left to play.

Worst case scenario, the officials don't get to Porter before he provokes Jones' reaction. Porter is penalized, but only at the same time as Jones. The penalties offset and only Burfict's penalty is counted, setting the Steelers up at the Bengals' 32 with 18 seconds left and no timeouts. They likely would have run another play and attempted another field goal. But, it probably would have been much more difficult than the chip shot that Chris Boswell hit at the end of the game.

The Ryan Shazier KO

The Incident

That dreaded Wild Card loss to Pittsburgh could have been changed if the Bengals had made just one more play, or had one not made against them that turned out to be illegal. That was the case with Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier, whose devastating hit on Giovani Bernard concussed the running back.

In the process, Bernard fumbled before hitting the ground, resulting in a turnover that stalled a Bengals drive in Steelers territory late in their eventual 18-16 loss.

The new rule

During the NFL owners meetings in March, NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino told reporters hits like Shazier's blindside, helmet-to-helmet hit, would now be illegal.

"We look at that hit and it's not a technique that we want in the game," Blandino said. "For the defensive player, it's not about angles. It's about lower the head and using the crown of the helmet. So outside the tackle box, that hit will become a foul. So forceful contact, clear crown, regardless of whether there's angles involved for the defensive player."

How it could have helped

Had the hit been flagged, the ball was around the 25-yard line where the hit was made, which means a 15-yard penalty would have put the Bengals close to the red zone, trailing 15-0 with 1:37 left in the third quarter. At worst, the Bengals get ta field goal and the score is 15-3 early in the fourth quarter.

At best, the Bengals score and it's 15-10 instead. However, after the fumble took place, Vontaze Burfict sacked and knocked Ben Roethlisberger out of the game until that final drive. Had the Bengals scored there with Big Ben, perhaps the Steelers offense doesn't stall out and allow the Bengals to rally, or maybe it just gives the Bengals more time to rally and put the game away.

It's good to see those kinds of hits are now illegal, but two months was too late for Bernard and the Bengals.

The Kimo Clause

The incident

In January 2006, the Bengals and Steelers played a Wild Card game in the playoffs. Much like in January 2016, the Bengals were the hosts and favorite team to win. However, that favoritism didn't last long as star quarterback Carson Palmer was hit at the knee by Steelers defensive end Kimo Von Oelhoffen on his first pass of the game. Palmer sustained damage to multiple ligaments in his knee, resulting in his exit from the game and Jon Kitna's entrance. As there was no rule at the time clarifying it specifically as an illegal hit, Von Oelhoffen was not penalized and the Steelers went on to cruise past the Bengals.

The new rule

Via 2015 NFL Rulebook:

A rushing defender is prohibited from forcibly hitting in the knee area or below a passer who has one or both feet on the ground, even if the initial contact is above the knee. It is not a foul if the defender is blocked (or fouled) into the passer and has no opportunity to avoid him.

How it could have helped

Obviously, clarifying that particular action as illegal could have discouraged Von Oelhoffen from taking the cheap shot. It wouldn't have helped Palmer much after the fact if Von Oelhoffen had taken the shot anyway, but it could have at least resulted in some sort of fine or suspension for him on top of a penalty that could have helped the Bengals finish off the drive with a touchdown instead of settling for a field goal.

It's hard to make the argument that Von Oelhoffen should have had the hammer brought down by the NFL, given the fact that the rule was not very clear at the time. But, had the rule been clarified and enforced at the time, Bengals fans would probably, at the very least, have a bit more closure after the incident.

The Hines Ward Rule

The incident

On the opening drive of the Bengals' and Steelers' first of two meetings in 2008, Hines Ward delivered a blindside block to an unsuspecting Keith Rivers, finishing the cheap shot through enough to break his jaw. The injury ended Rivers' season, who was in the middle of a really impressive rookie campaign. However, he was never the same after the hit and was eventually traded to the New York Giants after his next three years were all fairly disappointing.

The new rule

Via 2015 NFL Rulebook:

It is a foul if a player initiates unnecessary contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture.

Players in a defenseless posture are:

9. A player who receives a "blindside" block when the path of the offensive blocker is toward or parallel to his own end line, and he approaches the opponent from behind or from the side

How it could have helped

In this particular scenario, there wasn't really a whole lot of hope for the Bengals. They lost the game by a whopping 38-10 and ended the season at 4-11-1. Ryan Fitzpatrick was essentially relegated to a tackling dummy for a stout Steelers pass rush that absolutely manhandled an obviously overwhelmed Bengals offensive line. Some extra help from pre-injury Keith Rivers likely wouldn't have made enough of a difference to make it a game or season worth remembering.

Ward was eventually fined for the excessive nature of the hit, but the fact that there was previously no rule in place meant that the Steelers were not penalized on the play and Ward did not have to suffer any sort of suspension.

The Steelers went on to win the AFC North and, eventually, the Super Bowl that year. An extra loss or two in the regular season with a suspended Hines Ward could have derailed that... Maybe.

Chad Johnson's Celebrations

The incident(s)

Former Bengals receiver Chad Johnson was no stranger to the end zone in his prime, but it was what he did when he got into the end zone that ended up getting him in trouble. He was notorious for extensive and prolonged celebrations, many of which were hilarious and fun at the time, but quickly became a target for the NFL's celebration police.

The new rule

Via 2015 NFL Rulebook:

There shall be no unsportsmanlike conduct. This applies to any act which is contrary to the generally understood principles of sportsmanship. Such acts specifically include, among others:

1.    Prolonged or excessive celebrations or demonstrations by an individual player. Players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations or demonstrations while on the ground. A celebration or demonstration shall be deemed excessive or prolonged if a player continues to celebrate or demonstrate after a warning from an official.

How it could have helped

Personally, I don't think this rule helps anyone in any way. Sure, the NFL is a private entity and free to make whatever decisions it wants about player conduct in the interest of keeping things 'professional'. However, Chad's celebrations never seemed to have malicious intentions, they were just fun.

The NFL fined him quite often for these celebrations once he started getting more and more elaborate. Catching this earlier could have resulted in a bit more of a toned-down approach from Chad and less tension for an already dysfunctional locker room.

Ultimately, there's no point in making excuses for why the Bengals performed badly in any of these situations. But, it's still interesting to think of what could have been had the NFL gotten its act together just a little sooner.