Bears inside linebacker Alec Ogletree stood over Rams right guard Austin Corbett in Week 1 and was flagged for taunting.
“I don’t like the taunting because that’s gonna be emphasized this year,” coach Matt Nagy said at the time.
The next week, after safety Tashaun Gipson was called for taunting when he clapped in the direction of Bengals rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, Nagy said the Bears were teaching their players to “move on to the next play.”
Outside linebacker Cassius Marsh was called for taunting for staring at the Steelers’ bench Monday night. He did a spinning heel-kick celebration after a third-down sack. Rather than punt with 3:16 to play, ahead by three points, the Steelers kept the ball, forced the Bears to burn two timeouts and kicked a field goal in a game they’d win by two, 29-27.
The subjective nature of the taunting rule and the context of the game gave the Bears ample reason to complain about the flag, even though the NFL instructed its officials at the start of the season to enforce the rule.
The Bears lost the moral high ground a long time ago, though. They’ve been called for taunting three times for 45 yards this season, tied for the most in the NFL. Fourteen teams don’t have a taunting penalty.
“In that moment, you have to be super-careful of being in the gray with this new rule, with the taunting,” Nagy said Tuesday. “And any gray that you give them, they can make a decision on, and it can be subjective — and that’s part of the rule.”
Nagy has been saying that for two months. His players keep making the same mistake. That makes them undisciplined or poorly coached or both.
Whether they agree with an unpopular rule is immaterial. A penalty is a penalty — and the Bears’ 58 flags are 13th-most in the NFL and their 511 penalty yards rank 11th.
“It’s a very emotional game and an emotional time in the game,” Nagy said. “And so, you have that balance of somebody that’s fighting their [butt] off to make a play, then makes the play and is excited. Isn’t that a part of loving the game, man — the passion, fire, fun? That’s a part of the game.
“But when you’re in the gray, then . . . there can be consequences.”
Contrast that with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, a member of the NFL’s competition committee, who told reporters Tuesday that he unequivocally agrees with the rule.
“This game being played at the highest level, we understand that people who play at a lower level watch us and often mimic the things we do and how we conduct ourselves,” he said. “And just largely as a league competition committee specifically, there was a desire to improve in that area. That’s been expressed to our guys.’’
Unsurprisingly, the Steelers haven’t been flagged for taunting. In the NFL, you are what you emphasize.
The Bears led the NFL with 12 flags last week. Their 115 penalty yards were trumped only by the Bills, who had 118. The Bears have plenty of examples to turn into the league for review this week, but even Nagy knows they won’t get any satisfaction from it.
Rookie quarterback Justin Fields was upset that the Steelers didn’t get flagged for hitting him late, saying, “the vets, they get those calls.”
Nagy wouldn’t comment when asked about that, but he was clear about one thing. Marsh said late Monday that he was “hip-checked” by referee Tony Corrente as he ran off the field after the flag. After watching a replay, Marsh said he found the contact intentional and “incredibly inappropriate.”
Nagy didn’t see it that way.
“It’s in the moment,” he said. “They’re both doing their thing. I don’t see anything intentional through both of them.”