NEW ORLEANS (AP) Flopping in football? Really?
As counter-intuitive as it may seem to take a dive to draw a penalty in a full-contact sport like football, a couple of plays during the current NFL season have begged that very question.
The latest came last Sunday on a long heave to New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham from Drew Brees as regulation ended against San Francisco. When Graham put a hand on the shoulder of the 49ers' Perrish Cox, the defensive back went crashing to the turf, throwing both hands out - seemingly for effect - on his way down.
Graham, a former basketball player, initially denied pushing Cox, adding, ''That's why I left basketball, so I could stop being penalized for hitting people.''
Yet Graham later acknowledged he might have inadvertently knocked Cox off-balance. Meanwhile, across the NFL, players had a hard time accepting the notion of their peers embracing flopping as a legitimate strategy.
''This is an offense-driven league. Nobody's going to feel sorry for us if we fall down and they score a touchdown,'' Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro said. ''Nobody coaches flopping. You can't, because if it doesn't get called, it's a touchdown. You've just got to bank on them making the right call.''
Added Cox's teammate, safety Antoine Bethea: ''It's already tough enough as it is for DBs to play in the league now with the new rules (about contact with receivers after 5 yards). I doubt there's any DBs trying to flop.''
Yet the subject has come up twice this season on pivotal passing plays.
Earlier this season, officials nullified a long touchdown pass to Baltimore receiver Steve Smith during the final minute of the Ravens' 27-24 loss to Cincinnati, ruling Smith interfered with safety George Iloka. Smith could be seen putting his hands on Iloka's jersey as they jockeyed for position, and Iloka ended up flat on his back while Smith caught the pass and ran into the end zone.
Smith said afterward he did not believe he committed a penalty. Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he was ''not allowed'' to discuss the flag - a de facto, albeit non-fineable, criticism of the officials' decision.
In soccer, hockey and basketball, flopping became rampant enough that rules have been put in place to allow officials to punish players for embellishment.
In football, there have long been sporadic instances of flopping after the whistle, usually as players are getting up from a pile after a scrappy play. That's when one might see a 6-foot-plus, 300-pound lineman toppling like a felled tree after a light shove or slap.
Even when a play is live, there are moments when football players who are being legitimately fouled might resort to antics to try to make sure officials saw it.
''When the offense is holding, you might see guys throwing their hands in the air, trying to get the officials' recognition,'' Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce said. ''Some guys have that built in them, that feeling where they know they're getting held, they know something is illegal, they might act a little bit more.''
That is how Saints cornerback Corey White viewed what Cox did.
''He did a little acting,'' White said. Still, White and fellow Saints defensive backs saw evidence of their teammate committing pass interference. White even jokingly called Graham ''crazy,'' for initially saying otherwise.
''As a DB, you would never try to flop,'' White said. ''If a guy gets his hands on you, you fight through it because if you flop and they catch it, and they never call it, then it's like, `Why did you do that?'''
Sean Payton said he's never in two-plus decades of coaching at the college and pro levels seen a player instructed on how to use chicanery to draw penalties.
''I can't think of any (examples) where you're trying to coach a player'' to do that, Payton said. ''I don't see that as something that applies as much in our game.''
Of course, it can happen sometimes, Payton conceded, but added, ''None of it's coached.''
Denver's fifth-year receiver Emmanuel Sanders said he'd never really thought much about flopping in football before the Graham-Cox encounter became a talking point last Sunday.
''Honestly, I haven't seen any DBs doing it,'' Sanders said. ''That was a crucial play at a crucial time in the game, and I've always known that on Hail Marys, it's all about bang, bang, bang and whoever comes down with the ball, they come down with the ball.
''But as far as flopping, I really don't know if he did it,'' Sanders added. ''I saw it on TV and I read about it. But I don't think the DBs are flopping - and I play wide receiver. ... I would think that receivers would do more flopping than DBs. I don't think flopping has really made it into the National Football League yet.''
AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton and Sports Writers Janie McCauley and Dave Skretta contributed to this report.
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