Week 7’s biggest calls

Helmet-to-helmets hits were the biggest story of the past week, but I really didn’t expect much of that in Week 7, especially after all of the attention it received. I didn’t see any cheap shots and there were no penalties for unnecessary roughness on defenseless receivers. A very clean week overall.

However, there were some curious decisions by coaches and officials that are worthy of discussion. And it starts in Chicago, where the Redskins held on to beat the Bears, 17-14.

Before I get to the breakdown of the plays, I want to talk about the Bears’ first possession of the third quarter. Chicago had the ball, first-and-10 at its 49. Jay Cutler threw a 48-yard pass to Earl Bennett to the one-yard line.

The play on the field was ruled that the runner was down by contact at the one, but Bears coach Lovie Smith challenged that Bennett had scored. The play was upheld and Chicago had a first-and-goal at the one. That leads right into our first play.

1. Washington at Chicago

THE SITUATION: Chicago had the ball first-and-goal at the Washington one-yard line during its first possession of the third quarter. Chicago had the lead, 14-10. 

THE PLAY: Cutler carried the ball for one yard, extended the ball toward the goal line but then fumbled. The loose ball was recovered by Washington’s London Fletcher. 

MY TAKE: This play should have been challenged by the Bears and proved to be the difference in the game. When Cutler extended the ball toward the goal line, the ball broke the plane and it was clearly a touchdown before the ball was fumbled. There were plenty of replays before the Redskins snapped the ball on the next play that showed the ball breaking the plane.

I am flummoxed that the Bears would choose to challenge the previous play and not this one. We can talk all day about officiating mistakes and the impact they have on a game, but this was clearly a mistake by Smith and his coaches that may have cost them the game.

2. Pittsburgh at Miami

THE SITUATION: Pittsburgh had the ball, third-and-goal from the Miami 2-yard line with 2:30 left in the fourth quarter, trailing the Dolphins, 22-20.

THE PLAY: Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger carried the ball two yards and fumbled as he crossed the goal line. It was ruled a touchdown on the field, but the call was challenged by Miami. The play was reversed, however, because during the review, the officials were unable to determine who recovered the ball in the end zone before the players ended up in a scrum. The play, therefore, was ruled dead at the Miami one-yard line, making fourth-and-goal. Pittsburgh kicked a field goal to take a 23-22 lead.

MY TAKE: This was a very unusual play. The ruling differs in the field of play if the ruling was down by contact vs. a play in the end zone, when the ruling is a touchdown. In the field of play, had this play happened, Miami would have lost the challenge since there wasn’t indisputable visual evidence to determine who recovered the ball. The down by contact ruling would have stood in that case.

In this case, the officials ruled touchdown and since the ball was loose before it broke the plane, the touchdown ruling was reversed and the ball is returned to the spot of the fumble. Since the ruling changed from a touchdown to the ball being returned to the spot of the fumble, an aspect of the play was changed and therefore, Miami won the challenge.

An interesting footnote: With just over a minute to play on Miami’s next possession, on fourth-and-6 from its 33, Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne threw a pass that was ruled on the field as an interception by Pittsburgh’s James Harrison. Well, it wasn’t an interception, as the ball clearly hit the ground. But it wasn’t an incomplete pass, either.

It was actually a fumble, and the fumble was recovered by Harrison. It wasn’t reviewed and probably should have been. Regardless, no matter what the ruling ended up, the result of the play would have been the same. I can’t say I’ve ever seen that before. No matter whether it was an incompletion, an interception or a fumble, Pittsburgh would have gotten the ball at the same spot.

3. Buffalo at Baltimore

THE SITUATION: Buffalo had the ball, second-and-10 at its 41-yard line, and the score tied at 34 in overtime.

THE PLAY: Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick passed for four yards to Shawn Nelson at the Bills 45, but the ball was stripped out of his hands by Baltimore’s Ray Lewis. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was called on the Bills and enforced, and the Ravens took over at the Buffalo 29. Four plays later, they kicked a field goal to win the game, 37-34.

MY TAKE: This was another weird play because Nelson was wrapped up by several Baltimore players and it would have had the appearance that forward progress had been stopped. In reality, he was being pushed forward and, therefore, the ball was stripped away before he hit the ground.

This play is not reviewable. Aiding the runner does not apply here because it is legal for teammates to push the runner forward in the field of play.

4. St. Louis at Tampa Bay

THE SITUATION: Tampa Bay had the ball, third-and-16 from its 45-yard line, trailing 17-3 with 1:32 left in the second quarter.

THE PLAY: Quarterback Josh Freeman scrambled out of the pocket and picked up 15 yards. The replay assistant challenged the spot and after a booth review, determined it was a first down.

MY TAKE: This was a good piece of officiating by Mike Carey and his replay assistant Tommy Moore. They had to piece two shots together to move the ball forward, which led to a Bucs’ first down.

When it comes to a challenge regarding whether a first down has been made, if the officials move the ball they will set it at their new spot and remeasure. Mike did exactly that and reversed the ruling to a first down. I think this is the most difficult play in replay to change. Very seldom do you get a definitive look. Here you could see the left knee down with the ball just beyond the 39-yard line.

5. Philadelphia at Tennessee

THE SITUATION: Tennessee had the ball, second-and-10 at the Tennessee 22-yard line with 8:09 left in the first quarter.

THE PLAY: Tennessee quarterback Kerry Collins’ pass intended for Nate Washington was intercepted by the Philadelphia’s Quintin Mikell at the Philadelphia 49-yard line. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was called on the Philadelphia’s Michael Vick for sideline interference for obstructing the official on the white stripe.

The penalty was enforced at the Philadelphia 49 and the Eagles took over at their 34.

MY TAKE: You see this situation three or four times during the season. No players or coaches are allowed in the solid white area that borders the field.

The line judge, field judge, side judge and linesman work off the field in this border while covering plays. If they run into a coach or player, it is automatically unsportsmanlike conduct and the penalty can be enforced from whatever spot the referee feels is equitable. If a player or a coach doesn’t interfere with an official in this area, a foul will not be called.