To really understand the NFL, one must know that it is a quarterback-driven league.
Quarterbacks are the central focus of the offense; they control where the ball goes.
Quarterbacks dominate the league's marketing.
Quarterbacks get the biggest contracts.
Quarterbacks are legion in the broadcast booth.
Even though football is less star-driven than many other sports, quarterbacks make up the most recognizable figures in the game today. The league recognizes this, and has taken steps to protect these athletes, to insulate them as much as possible from the harsh realities of this physical game.
Sometimes, though, the desire to protect quarterbacks can interfere with the game itself. This cannot be allowed to happen.
Monday night's game provided prime examples of over-protection. Sacks by both linebacker Adalius Thomas and tackle Vince Wilfork drew roughing the passer penalties. In both cases, the penalties extended the Bills' drives.
Had the Patriots not conjured some last-second heroics, the penalty on Thomas would have undoubtedly been a major point of contention Tuesday morning, and it's never a good thing when the officials are the topic of conversation.
Thomas did swing Edwards to the turf, but it was not in an excessively violent manner; he was merely trying to make a definitive tackle.
The Patriots, indeed, have had the problem of not finishing tackles in recent years, and it has occasionally led to losses. Should Thomas have attempted a less forceful tackle, possibly allowing Edwards to break free? Of course not.
This was a situation where the Patriots played well (Thomas was in position to make the sack and made use of the opportunity) and were put at a disadvantage because of a questionable call.
After watching Tom Brady's knee collapse last year, Patriots fans are certainly sensitive to the possibility of an injured quarterback. However, I think we can all agree that, when protecting a quarterback becomes too much of a concern, it can negatively impact the game itself.
Indeed, I would argue most serious injuries (to the quarterback or otherwise) are not the result of illegal hits. They are simply the result of the speed of the game; an awkward movement is more likely to land one on the injured reserve than a vindictive player.
It is the NFL's duty to protect its players, but when it goes overboard, it threatens the legitimacy of the game.