Bengals Slam Roughing Call
Anwar Richardson, The Tampa Tribune, published 16 October 2006

It's questionable whether Bengals defensive end Justin Smith really roughed up Bruce Gradkowski late in the fourth quarter, but he had no problem slamming the officials for the call. "He must have season tickets down here," Smith said.

The official had an opinion, which Smith believed contributed to the Bengals' 14-13 loss against Tampa Bay at Raymond James Stadium. The Bengals were clinging to a 13-7 lead when Tampa Bay took over on its own 46-yard line with 4:21 remaining. Gradkowski's first pass attempt was incomplete, the second was a 7-yard completion to Cadillac Williams, while a 15-yard reception by Michael Clayton placed the Bucs on the Bengals' 32 with 3:37 remaining.

On first down, Smith broke through Tampa Bay's offensive line and sacked Gradkowski, pushing the Bucs back to the 40-yard line. However, Smith was called for roughing the passer, a 15-yard penalty that advanced Tampa Bay to the 25-yard line. Five plays later, Clayton caught a game-winning 8-yard touchdown pass to give Tampa Bay its first victory this season.

"I've never seen anything like that. Ever. They are not supposed to change the outcome," Smith said. "There was no whistle. There was no flag thrown immediately. I couldn't read it. As far as I was concerned, the game was over. He [Gradkowski] was coming out [of my grasp]. I just grabbed him and stayed with him. I thought it [the call] was questionable to say the least."

Smith was not the only person in Cincinnati's locker room to question the call. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis disagreed with the call and had a suggestion for what Smith could have done differently. "I guess you have to cuddle 'em to the ground," Lewis said.

After the game, referee Mike Carey, who is no stranger to controversial calls in Tampa, tried to explain the ruling. Carey led the officiating crew that negated former Bucs receiver Edell Shepherd's possible game-tying touchdown against the Washington Redskins in last year's playoffs.

"The ruling on the field was roughing the passer. Technically, it wasn't unnecessary roughness because the pass didn't get away. But in the tackle, the defender stopped forward progress, drove him backwards, and then at the end gave him the extra effort and stuffed his head into the ground. We're directed to protect the safety of the quarterback. Most people don't understand it [unnecessary roughness], so we just called it roughing the passer," Carey said.

To the players in Cincinnati's locker room, the ruling might as well been called "tickling the passer."

"You might as well put a red jersey on him, two-hand touch and you're down. You can't tackle the guy if it's [going to be] a personal foul," Bengals receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh said. "You need the head of officiating to review that play on NFL Network. As much as I watch NFL Network, I want him to review that one. I'm really going to want to hear his explanation for that. To sack the quarterback you've got to tackle him. If you barely bring him down, and he breaks the tackle, then what? You got to tackle him. Put a red jersey on him and you tackle him. He's down."

What has really been declining is Cincinnati's offense, which was held to 13 points for the second consecutive game (New England defeated the Bengals, 38-13, two weeks ago). Bengals running back Rudi Johnson had 17 carries for 52 yards, while receiver Chad Johnson, who was one of the most-feared vertical threats last year, only had one long completion (51 yards). Johnson finished with six receptions for 99 yards but declined to talk after the game. Houshmandzadeh had 10 receptions for 102 yards and one touchdown.

When Cincinnati took over on its own 10-yard line with 6:33 remaining, the Bengals failed to pick up a first down, or gain more than 2 yards on that possession. The offense's ineptness forced Cincinnati to punt, setting up Tampa Bay's final score, and Smith's roughing call. "What can you do? As a defensive player, what can you do? It was a touch sack. It could have been a heck of a lot more. It's got to be a two-way street As far as I'm concerned, it's one of the cleanest hits I've had," Smith said.