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Jets, Cardinals caught in penalty vortex that reveals larger trends

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1 Big Thing: Late pass interference penalties deserve review (2:41)

Scott Van Pelt thinks the ramifications of pass interference calls late in games mean they should be reviewable. (2:41)

Nineteen penalties. Thirteen in the first half alone. Plus another four declined.

In 60 minutes of football Monday night, we saw a total of 23 penalty flags in the Arizona Cardinals' 28-3 romp over the New York Jets. They came in all shapes and sizes, for both legitimate and questionable reasons. But in sum, they helped convey an inescapable sense of atrocious football on a national stage in a season clouded by an unexpected drop in television ratings.

We're not going to solve all the NFL's problems right now, but I think there are a few data points to keep in mind as we absorb this fiasco.

First, as bad as Monday night seemed, it wasn't the most heavily penalized game of the young 2016 season. That happened in Week 2, when the Detroit Lions and Tennessee Titans combined for 31 accepted and declined penalties. Monday's game was also nowhere close to the NFL record, which is 37 accepted penalties in a 1951 game between the Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears.

Second, as I've written before, penalty frequency can vary widely among NFL officiating crews. As it turns out, the Jets and Cardinals drew the league's most flag-happy crew Monday night. Referee Jerome Boger entered Monday night leading the NFL in penalties per game, at 20.2. Let's just say he matched his profile.

As the ESPN Stats & Information chart shows, there is a 70 percent disparity between the most and least frequent flag-throwers in the NFL. Referee Walt Coleman's crew currently calls the fewest, at 12.2 per game.

That discrepancy is one reason NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has acknowledged an interest in rotating crews, ostensibly to even out tendencies. This season, the NFL is selectively maneuvering individual members of crews, mostly with the purpose of ensuring experienced officials in high-profile games.

Given that context, it isn't so difficult to understand why Boger called a series of penalties for mild contact in pass defense early in the game. His crew skews toward calling a tight game, and teams scout those tendencies.

Third, the teams and the players involved in the game make a big difference. There's nothing an officiating crew can do when someone jumps offside or has an illegal shift, as the teams combined to do eight times Monday night. It's only fair to point out that the Jets employ a player who has committed more penalties since his arrival in the NFL than any other active player.

Cornerback Buster Skrine, who was flagged three times for defensive holding and once for pass interference, has committed a total of 45 penalties since he entered the league in 2011. The only player with more in that time period is free-agent cornerback Brandon Browner (61).

None of this is to excuse the poor quality of football we saw, a level so low that ESPN announcer Sean McDonough felt compelled to acknowledge the obvious.

"The way this game has been officiated," McDonough said, "is not something that anyone wants to watch."

Later, analyst Jon Gruden chimed in: "Tough game to watch, with all the penalties."

The point is that, sadly, the most unique part of Monday night's game was that it was on national television. It couldn't hide as part of a multigame early slate on a Sunday, as the Week 2 Titans-Lions barn burner did.

Penalties are the collective responsibility of officials and players. On this occasion, a couple trends collided to give us far more flags than anyone would want. So it goes.