One play early in the first quarter won't decide the outcome of any game in the NFL, but this roughing the passer call did set the tone in Sunday's showdown between the Jets and Falcons in London.
Five plays into Atlanta's opening drive, on third down, quarterback Matt Ryan was hit by linebacker Quincy Williams, influencing an incompletion down the field.
For a split second, it looked like New York's defense was coming off the field, getting an early stop and handing the football over to their offense. That's when a flag was thrown.
Williams was called for roughing the passer, a questionable call as Williams didn't appear to hit Ryan with malicious intent. In fact, it looked like the linebacker even angled his head away from the quarterback to lead with his shoulder..
"Looked like he had his head to the side," coach Robert Saleh told reporters after New York's 27-20 loss. "He’s obviously full speed trying to get to a guy before he throws the ball, and when he lands, he’s trying to roll up. You can see it go off, so as of now, I disagree with the call but we’ll see when we get to the tape."
As Saleh mentioned, perhaps it was Williams landing on Ryan that warranted the penalty. Then again, what is a defender supposed to do if they can't follow through with a tackle?
Instead of sending the punting unit on the field, Atlanta's drive continued. A conversion on fourth down a few plays later extended the drive again, setting up a 31-yard field goal from Younghoe Koo.
The Falcons went on to dominate the first half, scoring touchdowns on both of their next two possessions. It was 20-3 at halftime.
Asked after the game if the roughing call on Williams demoralized the defense, preventing the Jets from capitalizing on an early stop, Saleh said it's not an excuse "by any sense of the imagination."
"It’s a call when you’re fighting your tail off and a call like that doesn’t go your way, we’ve still got to find a way to get off the field," Saleh said.
After sacking Ryan Tannehill seven times the previous week in a win over the Titans, the Jets were held to zero sacks on Sunday. Ryan spread the football around all game long, firing quick passes and dismantling New York's defense with short and intermediate passes.
For a unit that's been solid all year long, New York struggled mightily on defense. Atlanta wound up with 450 total yards on offense including 342 from Ryan through the air on 33 completions.
New York finished the loss with seven penalties for 58 yards.