As the NFL’s rules protecting quarterbacks become more strict, the frustrations among defenders start to boil.
That’s what Carolina Panthers free safety Mike Mitchell said happened to him recently, when he called New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees “soft” on Los Angeles radio.
Wednesday, Mitchell backed off that statement, but remained steadfast in his commentary on how the rules negatively affect defenders.
“I don’t really think he’s a soft player,” Mitchell said Wednesday. “Obviously he’s a very, very, very good quarterback, and I have a lot of respect for what he’s done as a player and what he’s done in this league.
“It was really just more of a comment on the rule changes. It was really a 15-minute interview where someone took 45 seconds and made an article out of it.”
Mitchell’s “soft” comment came in the days after New Orleans’ 23-20 win in Week 11 against San Francisco. In that game, a late sack of Brees caused a fumble that was recovered by the 49ers. But a referee ruled Ahmad Brooks’ hit was to Brees’ head and neck, and the flag gave possession back to New Orleans.
The Saints kicked a field goal on that drive, tying the game at 20.
“Stop being soft, get up off the ground,” Mitchell told a Fox Sports L.A. podcast. “You fumbled the football, that’s why the only reason you were acting like you were hurt, is so you could draw a flag.
“You saw the play with Drew Brees,” he continued. “He did not get hit in the chin. He got hit hard, which he should have got hit hard because we are playing full speed tackle football. And he fumbled the football. And I think that’s really was the reason he was down so long. He was really trying to sell that and trying to get a flag.
“And obviously it worked, and their team was able to steal a win because of that play.”
Mitchell, by late October, had been fined five times by the NFL, totaling nearly $45,000. He said earlier this season he felt the league was targeting him for his aggressive play.
This year, hits on Brees (6-0, 209 pounds) have drawn three unnecessary roughness flags and three roughing the passer flags, in 477 pass attempts. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has drawn two unnecessary roughness flags and one roughing the passer penalty, on 366 pass attempts.
“We always talk about player safety, and that’s the thing that we’ve always got to take into consideration,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “Our quarterback’s taken some hits that I felt should have been called, but they don’t look as bad because he’s 6-5, 255. There’s a difference. A smaller or lighter guy gets hit and he’s going to contort and look different and everyone’s going to go, ‘Wow that’s vicious.’ Well, that’s their interpretation and we move on.”
Rivera said he asks for interpretations from the league on calls for and against the Panthers, as well as on non-calls, after games, and appreciates the feedback.
Strong safety Quintin Mikell said he was fined for a hit in the San Francisco game in Week 10, though he did not say which hit. He said he knows the potential consequences of physical play, but that he can’t think about that during a game.
“Obviously you have a 50-50 chance of getting fined when you go,” Mikell said. “You start worrying about that, you’re going to play slow. So I don’t think about it. I don’t care. I just go out there and play ball. If something happens and I get fined then I’ll handle it.”
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