PRESCOTT - The quarter was as miserable as David Macklin could imagine.
But even after the Cardinals cornerback was flagged three times for pass interference in the first 10 minutes of Saturday’s preseason game in Kansas City, his mind-set didn’t change. It couldn’t.
While the NFL began cracking down on touching receivers downfield last season, the Cardinals continue to coach their defensive backs to be physical. Coach Dennis Green makes sure "physical" is a description that begins talk about any of his cornerbacks.
The line is difficult to walk.
"It’s a thin line, but I look at it as a challenge," Macklin said.
Defensive backs can bump a receiver within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Once the receiver disengages from a cornerback, that cornerback technically can’t touch them again until the ball arrives.
The rule was in place long before last season. But after much complaining — magnified after New England’s defensive backs manhandled the Colts’ receivers in the 2003 AFC championship game — officials were told to make the calls a point of emphasis.
It was not a coincidence that the 2004 season saw an explosion of passing yards. The message was clear: Hands off or else.
"We call it the four-yard rule," veteran cornerback Robert Tate said, "because at five, you are cutting it real close."
Said rookie cornerback Eric Green, "The game is made for the receivers to win."
Macklin’s cornerback cohorts on the Cardinals defended their teammate, insisting Macklin was mostly playing good defense against the Chiefs.
But that’s not how the officials saw it. Macklin was nailed for a 33-yard interference call on Sammie Parker on Kansas City’s first drive, and then he got turned around two plays later when Parker beat him for a touchdown reception.
Later in the quarter, Macklin’s interference calls gained the Chiefs 34 yards on a field goal drive.
"You can play good coverage and we get downfield and we even touch a receiver, it’s a flag," Tate said. "The main thing, and your focus as a cornerback, we have to stay at it. We can’t lose our confidence."
Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said his staff makes sure the players are aware of the rules. He also said the Cardinals are trying to play within the rules and play the ball in the air.
But, Pendergast said, the defensive backs do want to play a physical game and the referees "obviously can’t call it every single down."
What an early flag will do is pique the offense’s interest, Pendergast said, and lead them to pick on a certain player. That’s exactly what happened to Macklin, as Chiefs quarterback Trent Green admitted after the game Kansas City kept throwing at Macklin after the first penalty.
"(The league) wants to see a lot of points and we know that as defensive players," Macklin said. "But we have to stop the points. I have to continue to play my style, don’t back off and hopefully I will get some of the calls."
The Cardinals have another learning curve to overcome, since both Eric Green and starter Antrel Rolle are rookies. Both said they have already been able to see a difference in how much more closely the NFL game is officiated compared to college.
Games like Macklin’s aren’t unusual, they are inevitable.
Cornerbacks must revert to the same mentality when getting penalties as they have when they are beaten for a long touchdown pass.
"You have to have amnesia," Rolle said. "Forgive and forget. Let it go, and live for the next play."