There were a lot of individual sequences that changed the course of Sunday’s Eagles/Commanders game. You can talk about the 3rd and 5 Reed Blankenship forearm spike, Ron Rivera’s decision to play for overtime, and the A.J. Brown taunting penalty. Top of the list should definitely be the Terrell Edmunds late hit penalty, which resulted in justifiably raucous boos that were quite audible on television:

Edmunds was asked postgame what he could have done differently there:

“Honestly don’t know, I think the only thing I could have done was let him get the first down. Just running fast and trying to play fast and they called it, so. You can’t argue with the refs now.”

The sequence happened on Washington’s first 4th quarter drive, when they were down 24-17 and trying to rebound from the Eagles pitching a third quarter shutout. It was 3rd and 4 on this particular play, and if Edmunds was not flagged, the Commanders would have had the ball with 4th and 1 from their own 49 yard line, with a tough decision to make.

But it’s less about the context and more about the scenario itself. These bang-bang sideline plays are some of the worst in the contemporary NFL, and they’re a product of recently-added quarterback protections. In this case, you’ve got Sam Howell hauling ass for the marker. Edmunds is bearing down on him at full speed. If he lets up to avoid the penalty, he risks Howell just reaching his hand out and moving the sticks.

That’s why we ask some version of “what exactly is the defender supposed to do there?

It’s unreasonable to expect a tackler to let up and essentially concede a first down, but that’s reality, because refs now have a proclivity to favor the quarterback in these particular scenarios. It’s one thing for a pass rusher to reach a quarterback in the pocket and try to avoid head/late contact, but when there’s a down and distance involved, and both players are zeroing in on the same line of gain, you create these bang-bang situations that are impossible to avoid. There is certainly nothing dirty from Edmunds in that play. It probably looks worse because Edmunds comes across the field and the resulting shove sent Howell into the bench area, with a couple of bodies hitting the ground as well. But when you look at it again, the contact really does begin right at the first step on the line:

That’s the definition of a bang-bang play. You won’t see something tighter than that. In these situations, I wish they’d just hold the flag, because every time it comes out you’re essentially telling the defensive player that they should concede instead. That’s not football.