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Why decline a penalty in the NFL?

Kick off to Week 1 of the NFL is less than a week away. As both the Cowboys and Bucs get ready for Thursday's opener, we get you ready with a brush up of the rules.

Aug 28, 2021; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Buffalo Bills quarterback Jake Fromm (4) passes the ball against the Green Bay Packers during the third quarter at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Rich BarnesUSA TODAY Sports

Only a few days remain until Thursday’s kick-off to the new NFL season. The reigning Super Bowl champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys will commence the new campaign. If you aren’t too familiar with the rules of professional football, let’s take a look at penalties, and analyze why a team might decline a call in their favor.

What are the consequences of each flag?

When flags are thrown that means a penalty has been called against one of the two sides on the field. Penalties can be called against the offensive and defensive teams, and they can vary in importance, and severity of punishment.

The heaviest penalties are pass interference, and personal foul penalties. Personal fouls are generally called when the referee spots a potentially dangerous play, like a blow to the head, or a low block. A personal foul is a fifteen yard penalty from the end of the play and an automatic first down.

P.I. is a killer when called against the defense

Pass interference can be called on the defensive or offensive team, and is generally the “flag” that can earn the offensive team the most yards. If the refs throw a flag for P.I. the ball is marked from the spot of the foul, if committed outside of 15 yards. If committed inside of fifteen yards from the line of scrimmage, the ball will be advanced 15 yards and it's an automatic first down. If the offensive player commits a pass interference play, the ball is placed 10 yards behind the previous spot.

The penalty for holding is next on the list of severity, especially against the offensive side. Holding calls on the offense end result in a penalty of ten yards from the spot of the foul and the down stays the same. If the defense is called for holding, its a five yard penalty from the line of scrimmage and an automatic first down for the offense.

Off-sides and false starts the most common flags

Off-sides and false starts are five yard penalties and are the most ticky tac infractions a team can be called for. Off-sides is a called against the defense when a player is past the the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped. This will move the ball up five yards from the line of scrimmage and the down remains the same unless the five yards were enough to give the offensive team a first down.

A false start is a pre-snap penalty whistled against the offense when a player flinches, or makes any sort of illegal move before the ball is in play. The offense is penalized five yards from the line of scrimmage.

So why decline?

But what happens when the penalty actually doesn’t favor the team who were on the receiving end of the foul? They decline it.

So when would a team decline a penalty? On the offensive end a team would decline a defensive holding call if the result of the play gets them farther down the field than the penalty would. A pass interference call would be declined if the receiver catches the pass regardless of the penalty, and advances the ball farther from where the foul was committed. An off-side call is generally waived off by the offensive team when the resulting play ends with a first down.

Defenses generally decline penalties less, but you do see it, especially if the infraction takes place on third or fourth down. A holding or pass interference call will generally be declined by the defensive side if the offensive team is faced with a fourth down situation, where they would have to punt or kick a field goal.

The Golden Boy vs. America's team

Coaches usually prepared for any game situation and know exactly when, where and why to decline a penalty. Among the many things being discussed by coaches in the week leading up to the opening of the regular season is flag protocol.

The new season of the NFL Starts this Thursday as the Bucs play Cowboys In Tampa Bay at 8:20 p.m. ET.


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