During the third quarter of Sunday’s Cowboys-Bengals game, Dallas faced a third-and-20 and Tony Romo launched a deep ball along the sideline to Dez Bryant. For a split-second Bryant had it, but then Bengals safety Reggie Nelson came in and lowered his shoulder into Bryant’s chest, dislodging the ball. The Bengals began to celebrate a big stop.
And then the Cowboys began to celebrate as a flag came out.
The referee announced a personal foul on Nelson for the hit (which you can see here), but it’s hard to see why: Nelson didn’t lead with his head, and he didn’t hit Bryant in the head. The Bengals looked furious on the field, and afterward both Nelson and coach Marvin Lewis said they had no idea what Nelson did wrong.
“That’s what [defensive coordinator Mike] Zimmer teaches us – to go low and not aim for anybody’s head,” Nelson told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I think I did a good job of taking that teaching.”
Lewis said he thinks Nelson’s hit was so clean that the NFL should provide it to players as an example of the right way for a defensive back to do his job.
“I thought it was a great target and probably one that will be on their teaching reel of how to do it,” Lewis said. “Reggie’s done a good job with those things. He was on their teaching reel last year, and I thought that one was picture perfect.”
One of the most frustrating aspects of the penalty is that the official who appeared to have the best view of the collision didn’t throw his flag. The flag came from another official farther away, and yet the official who was right on top of the play didn’t correct his colleague’s mistake.
The penalty ended up not being particularly costly to the Bengals, as the Cowboys threw back-to-back incompletions and then Nelson himself forced Dallas to punt by sacking Romo on third down. But just because it wasn’t costly doesn’t mean the Bengals aren’t right to complain. This was a bad call.