The Chris Jones roughing the passer flag was bad. The NFL’s response is worse

Mark Tenally/AP

There was an optical illusion in the Chiefs-Raiders game Monday night, or maybe I’m just handing myself an excuse.

But midway through the first quarter, Raiders receiver Davante Adams had a 58-yard catch and run for a touchdown, and at some point during the celebration, the football wound up in the seats at Arrowhead Stadium.

I was sitting next to Jesse Newell, one of our Chiefs beat writers, in the press box atop the upper deck at Arrowhead, and he commented that Adams chucked the ball into the stands. From our bird’s-eye view, I thought Adams had actually spiked the ball hard enough that it skipped off the ground first.

And then those jerks showed a replay.

At second glance, I got it wrong.

See how easy that is to say?

Well, it’s what the NFL, head referee Carl Cheffers and no one else involved with the roughing-the-passer fiasco later that evening can spit out.

We got it wrong.

Worse yet, and the reason for reigniting this conversation, they’ve gone in the opposite direction. There’s a sense of doubling down on Cheffers’ ruling — that, even after their own second glance, Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones should have been flagged for roughing the passer on Derek Carr in the second quarter, a penalty that could have very easily altered the result. The NFL is lucky it didn’t.

From the league’s officiating handle, the NFL tweeted a copy of the pool report (in which Cheffers predictably fails to mention he blew the call), alongside a video of the play, without further comment. It’s presented as though they’ve discovered a smoking gun in the case that proves this is all playing out the way exactly as it’s supposed to play out. Aha! But what about this!

The rest of us stand here, puzzled: What about it?

As of Wednesday afternoon, the league had not admitted to even Chiefs coach Andy Reid that a call was missed, though I suspect that admission could come later this week — privately.

Publicly, we have the say-nothing pool report that amounts to a defense of the call, the double-down tweet from NFL Officiating, and then this Wednesday, which someone from the league told to ESPN’s Adam Schefter:

“There is no backing down on enforcing rules that are in place to protect the health and safety of players, including quarterbacks, who by rule are considered defenseless players when they are in a passing posture.”

So that makes this a triple-down? I’ve lost track.

The call was egregious.

The response to it is somehow even worse.

Who are they attempting to convince with this messaging? You? Me? Themselves?

An NFL spokesperson reminded Herbie Teope, also a Chiefs beat writer for The Star, that the league’s roughing the passer calls have declined year over year.

That would be a fine point, even a relevant one, if coupled with the acknowledgment that they had a bad week and will get everything back on track this week. The problem isn’t necessarily the rule as much as its application in two instances on back-to-back days, with the Jones penalty falling 28 hours after one against Atlanta’s Grady Jarrett.

But combined with the remainder of the messaging, we’re left to believe the league and its referees are perfectly content with the flags. Perfectly content with the enforcement. So content, in fact, that they’re prepared to repeat it over and over, in every outlet possible.

The calls were bogus. Both of them. That was so obvious that I figured it pointless to extensively write about it directly after the game, assuming everyone watching that game, save Carl Cheffers, could figure it out on their own.

Humans make mistakes. Referees won’t be perfect Sunday when the Bills visit Kansas City, either.

I’m not advocating that Cheffers preempts Reid’s post-game news conference on Arrowhead Stadium’s first floor with one of his own, outlining every mistake he made in the game we just watched, much as that would make for some good content. I understand why the NFL would prefer not to admit a referee’s call either cost a team a chance to win the game (Atlanta) or very well could have swayed the outcome of another game (Kansas City) on back-to-back days.

But can we at least hint at it? Or can we at the very least not double and triple down in the opposite direction when given the benefit of hindsight?

How hard would this have been: “The roughing the passer penalty is in place to protect the safety of our players, including the quarterbacks, and we are going to continue to analyze the enforcement of those penalties to ensure it is generating the result we intended.”

No admission of wrongdoing. But not a defense of the indefensible.

Instead, we get this: “There is no backing down.” As if there is some sort of invading mob on its way, and, by God, they’re not leaving without a fight.

Well, mission accomplished there.

From Jones advocating that these calls become reviewable to Reid as angry as we’ve seen him on the sideline to Chiefs fans providing such a blaring chorus of boos that it seemed to rattle Cheffers during the game, alas: they got one.