Fred Warner

Warner rips NFL's ‘flag football' rules after Fitzpatrick penalty

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Like any All-Pro linebacker would, 49ers star Fred Warner is siding with the defense.

On the latest "The Warner House" podcast episode, Warner weighed in on one of the most controversial penalties to emerge from Week 3 of the 2023 NFL season -- a roughing-the-passer call in the "Sunday Night Football" clash between the Las Vegas Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers.

"There’s so many different rules now with unnecessary roughness and targeting and all this other stuff, they basically are trying to slowly turn the game into flag football a little bit," Warner said. "They want to get all the physicality out of the game, even though that’s what literally attracts people to watching the game is guys wearing pads and helmets and hitting each other."

The play in question involved former 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo, now starting under center for the Raiders, was sacked by Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick for a 6-yard loss in the fourth quarter. But instead of the Raiders facing a third-and-16 outside of the red zone, Las Vegas was gifted an automatic first down due to a roughing the passer penalty.

Fitzpatrick appeared to lead with his shoulder rather than his helmet when hitting Garoppolo, but the penalty still was called. It wiped off what would have been Fitzpatrick's first career sack. The Raiders scored three plays later to make it a one-possession game.

"He came in on a blitz and sacked Jimmy, but then they threw a flag on the play and said it was targeting because his facemask just happened to glaze Jimmy’s helmet even though he initiated contact at his shoulder first," Warner said. "So, if you slo-mo it, yeah, it looks like his helmet hit his helmet, but it really wasn’t helmet-to-helmet. The rules are finicky a little bit.

"It’s unfortunate for him, but hey, that’s just what the game is now."

Steelers star pass rusher and fellow All-Pro T.J. Watt also addressed the penalty after the game.

"I don’t even know what to say about that,” he told reporters in the locker room.

It's tough enough to be a defender with a rulebook that tends to favor offenses around the league. But defensive players in the NFL like Warner are making sure their voices are heard.

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