Oct 20, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long (91) is escorted out after being ejected for fighting during the game at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Breaking Down the Scrums in the Rams at Panthers Game


Rarely has a mid-season game between two teams with losing records erupted with such emotion as last week’s match-up between the Carolina Panthers and the visiting St. Louis Rams.

We’ve all heard about the multiple stoppages in play and the melees that broke out between the two non-rivals. Predictably, Rams fans took to social media accusing the Panthers of many things, none of which are flattering. Just as predictably, Panthers fans defended their players, but I want to take a look at what really happened.

The first half went without any obvious problems, but that all changed when things erupted shortly after halftime. Rams defensive end Chris Long was ejected for throwing a punch with 9:45 remaining in the 3rd quarter. At first, I thought perhaps it was out of frustration, but just the previous play, he tackled Panther running back DeAngelo Williams for a loss.

Okay, so I was at a loss when I considered that part. Looking at the film, on that particular play, Long tried an inside slant that was stymied by left tackle Jordan Gross. Long then tried a spin move to the outside, but Gross stayed with him and pushed him to the ground, keeping Long completely out of that particular play.

Oct 20, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert (35) celebrates after scoring a touchdown with quarterback Cam Newton (1) and tackle Jordan Gross (69) and tight end Richie Brockel (47) in the second quarter against the St. Louis Rams at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Nothing wrong at all there – I think even Chris Long would have to agree. However, Panthers WR Steve Smith and Rams CB Janoris Jenkins were battling and trash-talking each other since Carolina’s opening snap on offense. After the game, we found out that Jenkins has been posting things on the internet about Smitty’s wife, and Smith had a little more to say the next day.

Smith’s rants were after the fact, however, and the only thing I can see is that he was probably sticking up for his teammate as Jenkins and Smith continued their battles after the whistle. THAT sort of thing happens fairly often, especially with Smith as he is known for being an intense player.

I saw Smith push Eugene Sims around the shoulder pads and spin away as Sims had grabbed the smaller man’s arm and held onto it, likely giving him a piece of his own mind in the process. Fine; that happens too.

In fact, on the play in question, Cam Newton threw a completed pass to TE Greg Olson for about a ten-yard gain on 2nd and 14. Smith was a little bit deeper and on the same side while Rams safety Rodney McLeod was coming in to engage Olson, but the play ended long before McLeod reached him and he easily dodged Smith’s hand-swipe to the chest. Nothing untoward there, either.

It isn’t clear exactly why the Rams defenders decided they needed to intervene on that particular play and go after Smith, but the incident occurred well after the end of the play. Smith disengaged from Sims, turned his back, and was headed away from him.

By then, Carolina’s offensive teammates had come to the so-far “nothing to see here” disagreement and engaged the Rams’ defense likely in even more mouthing and jawing. A little pushing ensued as Rams defensive end Robert Quinn pushed Panthers right tackle Byron bell in the head – which was very close to looking like a punch in its own right and Jordan Gross shoved Quinn in the left shoulder in retaliation as several Panthers’ players and Quinn took turns pushing each other…and frankly, not all that forcefully.

Oct 20, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith (89) dives towards the goal line as he is stopped by St. Louis Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins (21) during the game at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Then, Long threw a punch at Carolina offensive guard Chris Scott, who had his hands in the air. Scott continued to hold his hands up as he backpedaled towards his teammates and center Ryan Kalil pointed at Long as three different officials finally threw flags in the air in unison. The shoving continued as Quinn grabbed Byron Bell’s face mask and his teammates tried to put an end to that with a little more forceful shoving.

Smith had been held by one of the assistant coaches for much of this, but was let go after the flags at some point, but it still wasn’t done. Rams defensive end Eugene Sims grabbed Steve Smith’s jersey and extricated him from the pushing, and for Smith’s part, he couldn’t resist the much larger man’s strength as the two were locked due to Sims’s grapple.

Smith responded by attempting to hold him off with his right arm while turned to the left – Sims’ right hand was grabbing Smith’s chest and his left was on his back.

The drive ended in a field goal after Tolbert drew a flag for unnecessary roughness after being faceplanted into the turf at the Rams’ one-yard line. Flags came quickly as Tolbert was on the ground on the far side, so I couldn’t tell what went on there. On the following drive, the Rams had their longest pass play of the season, a 73-yard gain by WR Brian Quick. The drive ended in a touchdown for the Rams, getting them back into the game down 20-12.

On the next drive for Carolina, Janoris Jenkins got flagged for holding as the frustration the Rams felt, looking back, was still simmering.

A few plays later, the officials had to separate Smith and Jenkins again, and on the following play, Smith caught a Cam Newton pass at the 8 yard line, made Jenkins miss, and dodged the safety on his way into the end zone.

Oct 20, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith (89) scores a touchdown in the third quarter past St. Louis Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins (21) defends at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

That’s the play where Smith turned around and pointed to Jenkins, who was lying on the field turf at the ten yard line, watching Smith score on him. Smith did his “you’re not Prime Time” end zone dance.

In the fourth quarter the Panthers had a 27-12 lead and the Rams probably started feeling like their chances of overcoming a stout Panthers’ defense were growing quite slim – and it showed on the Rams’ next possession.

WR Tavon Austin caught a screen pass from Sam Bradford for a 3-yard loss, and tempers flared again. Rams guard Harvey Dahl got flagged for unnecessary roughness and the Panthers’ players took exception to it. Still, here, it was “just” more shoving.

On the very next play, Brian Quick was flagged for another roughness penalty – one that probably should have gotten him ejected as well. After the whistle, he turned around and slapped/punched Carolina safety Mike Mitchell in the right side of the head.

In fairness, Mitchell had given him a shove in the back long enough after the whistle that he himself might have and probably should have been flagged for “unsportsmanlike conduct” if for no other reason than for the officials to make a statement and try to put an end to much of the “extra-curricular activities” – again, just pushing and shoving.

However, it would not have been consistent in that they hadn’t been throwing flags for it the entire game on either side. Quick turned around, hit Mitchell’s helmet, and you could see Mike’s head turn in response to the force of the slap.

Quick actually got off easy with the fifteen-yard penalty on that one, drawing multiple flags again.

That drive ended in a bad punt, resulting in a Graham Gano field goal to make the score 30-12. The Rams added their own field goal on their next possession, and the hostilities seemed to die down.

Oct 20, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith (89) reacts after scoring a touchdown in the third quarter against the St. Louis Rams at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Nope.

After a Carolina punt, the Rams got the ball and Panthers’ defensive end Greg Hardy got flagged for a late hit on Bradford. Not good, considering the emotions already shown, but the officials made the correct call under the rules and it wasn’t a particularly egregious “late hit” on a bang-bang play. I’m sure Hardy would have wanted that one back as the defense had stopped the Rams offense short on a third down and six to go, but with under six minutes remaining and down by 15 points, the Rams were near midfield and may well have been in four-down territory.

That’s conjecture as they were down two scores but had their full complement of timeouts.

On second and ten at the Panthers 37 yard line, the lead-footed Bradford scrambled right to avoid a collapsing pocket and was headed for the sideline. Safety Mike Mitchell, however, closed the gap rapidly and pushed him out of bounds on a very clean, legal play and frankly not a very physical one.

Mitchell locked his own arms in a “delta” pose and raised his head to the sky in celebration as Bradford collapsed into his own sidelines, holding his knee.

Once again, guard Harvey Dahl lost his cool as Mitchell had long since turned his back and was making his way back to his teammates and appeared to be unaware that Bradford had been injured on the play. I counted roughly eight steps that Dahl took to reach Mitchell as he had been retreating and had stopped any celebrating.

Dahl grabbed Mitchell’s jersey briefly and I’m sure had words for him, but that was about it. Dahl was flagged for unnecessary roughness on that play as well, but I feel no flag was warranted as the contact was minimal – especially by this game’s standards – and Dahl probably felt as if Mitchell was celebrating hurting Bradford since emotions were already on the razor’s edge from long before.

When Mitchell had posed to do his brief celebratory pose, Bradford hadn’t even finished falling down yet. I’m guessing here, but I think Mitchell had probably heard Bradford’s cries of extreme discomfort and did what he should have done – he stopped what he was doing and removed himself from the area. Harvey Dahl decided he’d not let the Panther DB off so easily and drew the flag for roughness.

While I disagree with the roughness call on that particular play, an “unsportsmanlike conduct” penalty would have made more sense, either one resulting in a 15-yard penalty, but a “no-call” on the play would have been fine with me as well…especially under the circumstances.

Nov. 25, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA: St. Louis Rams guard Harvey Dahl (62) and tackle Barry Richardson (79) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

After Dahl’s infraction, the only penalty called on either side was a false start by Carolina on their next possession and the contest was over when back-up QB Kellen Clemens turned it over for the Rams on a Greg Hardy sack/fumble.

As I said in my game recap, I’ve completely lost all respect I used to have for St. Louis Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher.

I can see ONE maybe two penalties due to emotions and frustration, but after that their coaching staff should have put a stop to it and handled things themselves. As a last resort, Fisher could have called a timeout, called his entire team together, and given them the lecture about being professionals and acting like it. Multiple players really hurt their chances with penalties for unnecessary roughness while the Panthers’ players were not engaging in anything more than the usual pushing/shoving that goes on in every game.

I watched the film. I watched ALL the plays in question multiple times, even pausing the action and watching it frame-by-frame, and the worst thing I saw a Panthers’ player do was Mitchell’s shove of Brian Quick in the back before Quick turned and slapped him in the head.

I think we ALL know, if we’ve been watching the NFL for any time at all, it’s the fact that the retaliation is often what’s seen and flagged and not the original offense that brought it on.

It’s a part of the game. ALL teams do it and have been since the game began long before I was born. Fisher’s Rams squad exposed themselves as undisciplined and downright thuggish with not one, not two, but three ejectable offenses, with only the one against Long being actually enforced. Quick’s shot at Mitchell was clearly a punch/slap to the head and a fairly forceful one at that with Quinn’s earlier head-shove being slightly more borderline.

Oct 20, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; St. Louis Rams defensive end Eugene Sims (right) has words with Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith (left) during the game at Bank of America Stadium. Panthers win 30-15. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Lastly, I didn’t like the way Chris Long behaved when he was being escorted off the field at all. While a couple of drunken fans tossed aluminum cans at Long, their aim left a lot to be desired, thankfully. This is not to hold the fans unaccountable, however, as I feel any fan throwing ANYTHING AT ALL on the field should be escorted out and banned from returning for at least the rest of the season – for a first offense. For at least part of the time, Long wasn’t wearing his helmet. I think (not sure) they have to give up their helmet by rule when ejected.

Long took the bait from the drunken fans, however, and gave the crowd at the stadium the one-finger salute in an extremely unprofessional act. He knows there are fans there with small children and he needs to act in a manner that isn’t detrimental to the sensibilities of little ones.

I can only guess how many parents had to face the question “What does that mean?” from one of their children after Long’s “salute to the crowd.”

Nice, Chris. I’m sure your daddy’s proud.

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye

Tags: Chris Long Ejected Harvey Dahl Panthers Vs. Rams Fight Steve Smith