GREEN BAY, Wis. Cliff Avril is 31. That’s old enough to remember Michael Jordan being so brilliant and legendary in basketball that NBA officials were widely believed to have their own set of calls reserved for Jordan to get benefits of all doubt during games.
Avril thinks Aaron Rodgers is the NFL’s current version/recipient of such preferential treatment from officials.
The Seahawks’ Pro Bowl defensive end wasn’t angry as much as he was incredulous at the illegal-block penalty Avril got for wholly unnecessary contact on the star quarterback in the first quarter of Seattle’s 17-9 loss Sunday in its season opener at Green Bay.
Avril’s foul cost the Seahawks a touchdown they never did score the rest of the day. Rookie defensive tackle Nazair Jones was returning his interception of Rodgers 64 yards for a stunning score and what would have been a 7-0 lead for the Seahawks.
Avril’s contract wasn’t hard to Rodgers’ shoulder, though it wasn’t completely from the front or side as a legal block must be. Avril was calling for a block in the back.
Again, as coach Pete Carroll said after the loss, it was totally unnecessary.
Referees in particular are charged to closely watch the quarterback on every play, but particularly immediately after turnovers when defenders sometimes attempt to get shots in on QBs. Remember Clay Matthews drilling Russell Wilson up high after an interception when these teams met in the NFC title game in January 2015?
Still, Avril, a former NFC North rival of Rodgers when Avril played for Detroit from 2008-12, couldn’t believe he got flagged Sunday. He didn’t even know it until two quarters later.
"I didn’t even know it was on me until the third quarter when (teammate Richard Sherman) was like, ‘Did you know that was on you?’ I was like, ‘Uhhhhh….,’” Avril said.
"Yeah, I bet they threw it as soon as I touched him. I guaranteed they threw a flag. But that stopped us from scoring…He is A-Rod. He is one of the best quarterbacks in the league…
"That was crazy.
"But some guys get ‘The Michael Jordan Rule.’"
I asked Avril, who had a sack of and two hits on Rodgers, how many players in today’s NFL get such preferential treatment from officials. He answered like a defensive end.
“Probably 28 out of the 32 quarterbacks,” Avril said, with a grin. “At least 28 out of the 32 NFL quarterbacks get ‘The Michael Jordan Rule.’ Amazing.
Jones said he didn’t know his touchdown had been called back by Avril’s foul. He thought he’d given his team the lead on his first play in the NFL.
“I didn’t know until the fans started telling me,” Jones said of Packer backers behind the end zone through which he’d just run. “I was staring down fans in the crowd.
“It’s just great to get a turnover. We still needed two more to get our goal (for each game), though.”
Jones already has a great story: paralyzed for a time by a rare disorder, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. That had him hospitalized on his 16th birthday and then having to re-learn to walk.
Now he has another awesome story to tell his grandchildren. On his first NFL play, he intercepted the great Aaron Rogers in Lambeau Field.
“Man, it was actually my first snap. My first snap and I got a pick on Aaron Rodgers. I don’t think it’s sunk in yet,” he said.
“I mean, the loss is kind of a bummer, so it doesn’t hold as much as I probably want to.”
Asked if Rodgers just didn’t see him along the line before he jumped to catch the short pass, the 6-5 Jones laughed.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “I’m a big dude. Kind of hard to miss.”