It’s as cliché as it gets, but it’s one that’s so apropos when it comes to the NFL. And it was never more apparent than Week 15 — not only did two big streaks come to an end unexpectedly Sunday, but eight of the 13 games were upsets.
The two biggest surprises were perfectly imperfect.
The previously unbeaten Green Bay Packers lost for the first time this season when Kansas City upset the defending Super Bowl champions 19-14. On the flip side, the Indianapolis Colts, who hadn’t won a game all season, got their first victory by beating Tennessee 27-13.
But I want to take a closer look at a play in the Packers-Chiefs game that might have altered the outcome.
Here was the situation: Kansas City had the ball, second-and-1 at the Green Bay 36-yard line with 13:27 left in the fourth quarter. KC lead 9-7.
Kansas City quarterback Kyle Orton completed a 33-yard pass to Leonard Pope, who was pushed out of bounds by Green Bay’s Charlie Peprah. As Pope was going out of bounds he fumbled the ball, but the officials spotted the ball at the Green Bay 3-yard line. The Chiefs failed to score a touchdown, but they did kick a field goal to take a 12-7 lead with 11:28 left in the game.
After the play was over, the FOX cameras showed Packers coach Mike McCarthy reaching into his pocket looking for the challenge flag.
He should have trusted his instincts and thrown a flag — a sock, a shoe, something — because if this play was challenged, I think the ruling on the field would have been reversed and the result of the play would have been a touchback.
When asked about the play after the game, McCarthy said he thought the officials made the right call.
"They have the replay here in Arrowhead," McCarthy said. "I was of the opinion that the foot was out of bounds before the ball came out. We talked about it. We had a long break in between that point in time to make the decision. Based on the information, I thought it was right not to challenge."
The question on this play was whether the ball came loose from Pope’s left hand before his right foot touched out of bounds. When I looked at the replay, it certainly looked that way to me.
It also looked like the ball was short of the goal line when it came loose. The ball then landed in the end zone inbounds, before rolling out of bounds. By rule, that would have made this a touchback and the Packers would have gotten the ball at the 20-yard line.
The Chiefs ended up with a field goal, but that one play could have changed the momentum of the game.
One week. One game. One play.
That’s all it takes for the unexpected to happen in the NFL. And that’s one of the many reasons why this game so great.
Let’s take a look at some of the other interesting calls from Sunday:
Washington at NY Giants
THE SITUATION: The Giants had the ball, third-and-4 at the Washington 4-yard line with 9:23 left in the fourth quarter. Washington led 23-3.
THE PLAY: Giants quarterback Eli Manning completed a 4-yard pass to D.J. Ware that was ruled a touchdown on the field. The replay assistant initiated a review and challenged the runner broke the plane ruling. The play was reversed and the ball was spotted at the 2-yard line.
MY TAKE: The first thing to focus on here is when Ware completed the catch. In order to complete the catch, Ware had to establish control, which he did, get two feet down with control, which he didn’t, and then maintain control of the ball long enough to perform an act common to the game of football.
Since Ware did not have control of the ball before his left football came down at the goal line, he doesn’t complete the catch until he was tackled at the 2-yard line. He didn’t get forward progress, because he did not have control. Therefore, reversing the call from a touchdown to the ball being placed at the 2-yard line, was the correct call.
Detroit at Oakland
THE SITUATION: Detroit was kicking off to start the third quarter, trailing Oakland 17-14.
THE PLAY: Jason Hanson kicked the ball 70 yards and Tyvon Branch took the ball five yards deep in the end zone and turned it 15 yards to the Oakland 10-yard line. On the return, the Raiders’ Jerome Boyd was called for a personal foul penalty against the Lions’ Don Carey.
MY TAKE: In 2008, in a game involving the Steelers and the Bengals, Pittsburgh’s Hines Ward executed a legal blindside block and hit Cincinnati’s Keith Rivers helmet-to-helmet, breaking Rivers’ jaw in two places.
Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis sits on the league’s competition committee and he brought this play to the table after the season. As a result, in 2009 the league passed a rule that made a player who gets hit by a blindside block defenseless.
A blindside block is a block by a player who is moving toward his own end line and approaches the opponent from behind or from the side. Since the opponent is defenseless, that means he cannot be hit helmet-to-helmet or cannot be hit in the head or neck area with the helmet, shoulder or forearm.
On the play in the Lions-Raiders game, Boyd approached Carey from the side and hit him helmet-to-helmet. Not only was it foul, but it will also be a fine.
Carolina at Houston
THE SITUATION: Carolina had the ball, second-and-6 from the Houston 7-yard line with 55 seconds left in the second quarter. Carolina led 14-0.
THE PLAY: Carolina quarterback Cam Newton was in the shotgun and handed the ball to Richie Brockel, who ran seven yards for a touchdown.
MY TAKE: I love to see trick plays that are run properly and work. Here are the things that had to be looked at on this play: was there an illegal shift? The answer to that question is no. All players were set when the ball was snapped.
Second, was the forward handoff legal? The answer to that is yes, because it’s legal to hand the ball forward to an eligible player behind the line of scrimmage, even if you hand it forward between his legs. You cannot hand the ball forward to an ineligible receiver behind the line of scrimmage or to any player beyond the line.
All in all, it was a great play that resulted in a touchdown.
Tennessee at Indianapolis
THE SITUATION: Indianapolis had the ball, fourth-and-6 at the Indianapolis 13-yard line with 8:17 left in the second quarter. Indianapolis led 3-0.
THE PLAY: The Colts’ Pat McAfee punted the ball 60 yards to the Tennessee 27-yard line. There were multiple penalties called on the play.
Indianapolis’ Brandon King was called for interference with the opportunity to catch the ball. Tennessee’s Tommie Campbell was called for an illegal block and the penalties offset. On the re-kick, McAfee punted the ball 52 yards to the Tennessee 35-yard line.
There were multiple penalties again: Tennessee’s Kevin Malast was called for offensive holding and Indianapolis’ Chris Rucker was called for player out of bounds and the penalties offset.
On the third punt of the series, McAfee punted 45 yards to the Tennessee 42-yard line, and Indianapolis’ Mario Addison was called for an ineligible downfield.
MY TAKE: How about this sequence … three punts and five penalties. The punt, which led to offsetting penalties, is really the only one in question. The officials called a block in the back and King, who was the player who was blocked, ended up interfering with the receiver.
My question would be, if there was enough contact to call an illegal block in the back, then it would seem to be that the contact should have taken away the penalty for the interference with the opportunity. The officials on the field ruled that King still had time to avoid the contact, but that makes a simple decision difficult with a lot of gray area.
In my opinion, the foul for interference should not have been called.
Seattle at Chicago
THE SITUATION: Chicago had the ball, third-and-6 from the Chicago 7-yard line with 11:02 left in the first quarter.
THE PLAY: Chicago quarterback Caleb Hanie completed a 17-yard pass to Johnny Knox, who fumbled and the loose ball was recovered by Seattle’s Earl Thomas. Knox was injured on the play. While Knox was attempting to recover the fumble, he was hit by Seattle’s Anthony Hargrove, which caused him to be bent over backwards.
MY TAKE: This appeared to be a very serious injury and Knox was down on the field for a long time before he was carted off on a stretcher. It was later reported that Knox will undergo season-ending surgery on his back.
I must tell you that everyone down on the field is significantly affected by these types of injuries, including the officials. It’s a sickening feeling. When you’re down on the field you not only feel the ferociousness of the contact, but you hear it also.
And when you see a player down with an injury such as this, you do what everyone else does, which is to say a prayer and hope that he’s all right. It then takes everybody a couple of plays to get settled down after the player is removed.
It’s one of those things you’ll think about well after the game is over.