Analyzing Week 8's controversial calls

October 30, 2011

We’re nearly halfway through the NFL season and the only thing we know for sure is that the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers are still undefeated – and they had a bye this week.

On any given week, as the saying goes in the NFL, you just never know. And Week 8 didn’t disappoint in the ability to surprise us.

For example:

    Let’s take a look at a few of the more interesting calls during Sunday’s games:

    THE GAME: New Orleans at St. Louis

    THE SITUATION: St. Louis had the ball, fourth-and-2 from the New Orleans 40-yard line with 9:00 left in the second quarter. There was no score.

    THE PLAY: Rams quarterback A.J. Feeley completed a pass to Greg Salas for 33 yards to the New Orleans 7-yard line. The Saints challenged the play, saying Salas stepped out of bounds at the New Orleans 23-yard line. After a review, the play was reversed and the ball was put back to the 23-yard line. The officiating crew also had the clock reset to 9:24.

    MY TAKE: The further I get away from the league, the more conservative I get with instant replay. I don’t think anything should get reversed unless there is 100 percent indisputable visual evidence.

    On this play, since there was not a video shot right down the sideline, I would not have reversed it.

    I’ve seen too many times when it looks like a runner’s foot might be on the line, but then you see a down-the-line sideline shot and it turns out that it is not. I’ve always felt that if you look at a play and decide not to reverse it, then replay has done its job. On the other hand, if you reverse it without indisputable visual evidence, then replay failed.

    While I wouldn’t have reversed this play, that’s one person’s judgment against another. I just hope that the standard remains that you need indisputable visual evidence before a call gets reversed.

    THE GAME: Minnesota at Carolina

    THE SITUATION: Minnesota had the ball, third-and-11 at the Carolina 17-yard line with 4:37 left in the second quarter. Carolina led 14-7.

    THE PLAY: Minnesota quarterback Christian Ponder completed a 12-yard pass to Percy Harvin, who was tackled by Captain Munnerlyn. Munnerlyn stripped the ball out of Harvin’s hands as he was going down. Minnesota challenged the fumble ruling, but the play was upheld. The officiating crew had the clock reset to 4:41.

    MY TAKE: It’s an interesting play in regard to replay, because the only thing that is reviewable on this play was whether Harvin was down before the ball was stripped away.

    The ruling on the field was that there was a fumble recovered by Munnerlyn. In looking at the play, Munnerlyn was stripping the ball as both he and Harvin were going to the ground. That would make it a fumble and it was clear that Munnerlyn had the ball when they both went to the ground. But keeping in mind that the ruling on the field was a fumble, there was not enough indisputable evidence to overturn the original call.

    THE GAME: Detroit at Denver

    THE SITUATION: Denver had the ball, second-and-14 at the Detroit 21-yard line with 11:31 left in the first quarter. There was no score.

    THE PLAY: Denver quarterback Tim Tebow attempted a 21-yard pass to Eric Decker in the end zone that was called incomplete because the officials ruled that Decker didn’t have both feet inbounds. Denver challenged the incomplete pass ruling, but the play was upheld.

    MY TAKE: There were quite a few plays Sunday where referees ruled the original ruling on the field stood. That means they didn’t have enough visual evidence to change the call from its original ruling. This play was a good example.

    The ruling was incomplete and the question was whether or not Decker’s left foot was still down when he first possessed the ball. This was real close. So close, as a matter of fact, that we could be talking all night about whether Decker established control.

    Had this been ruled a touchdown, the call would have stood. It’s one of those plays that was so close that whatever was ruled on the field, had to stand.

    THE GAME: Cincinnati at Seattle

    THE SITUATION: Cincinnati had the ball, first-and-10 at the Cincinnati 14-yard line with 14:42 left in the second quarter. Cincinnati led 10-3.

    THE PLAY: Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton was attempting a pass and the ball slipped out of his hands. It was ruled an incomplete pass. Seattle coach Pete Carroll questioned the officials about possibly challenging the play as a backwards pass/lateral, but the play was not reviewable as the officials cited the tuck rule.

    MY TAKE: The main question was whether this pass was forward or backward. The referee ruled it forward and incomplete, even though the ball came out of Dalton’s hand going backward.

    Rule 2, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2 states: "When an offensive player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of the hand, starts a forward pass. Even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck the ball back to his body."

    That was the ruling here, the old tuck play. Most people think the forward pass starts when the pass leaves the passer’s hand, but that’s not the case. The direction the ball ends up going after the arm starts forward is irrelevant. It is a forward pass.

    THE GAME: Jacksonville at Houston

    THE SITUATION: Jacksonville had the ball, third-and-10 at the Jacksonville 10-yard line with 6:48 left in the first quarter. Houston led 7-0.

    THE PLAY: Jacksonville quarterback Blaine Gabbert scrambled 11 yards and when he was making his slide to go down, he was hit by Houston’s Glover Quin and Brian Cushing. No foul was called on the play.

    MY TAKE: In my opinion, this was not a foul. It is true that a quarterback who slides feet first gets added protection. The rule states that the defender must pull up when a runner begins a feet-first slide. It also goes on to state that all contact by a defender is illegal.

    If a defender has already committed himself, and the contact is unavoidable, it is not a foul -- unless the defender commits some other act such as helmet-to-helmet contact or driving his forearm or shoulder into the head or neck of the runner. The rule also states that the quarterback who desires to take advantage of this protection is responsible for starting his slide before contact by a defensive player is imminent.

    There was no contact to the head or neck area to Gabbert. Quin was already committed to making the tackle and Cushing was pushed into the body of Gabbert.

    THE GAME: Cincinnati at Seattle

    THE SITUATION: Seattle had the ball, fourth-and-2 from the Cincinnati 3-yard with 14 seconds left in the second quarter. Cincinnati led 17-3.

    THE PLAY: Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch carried the ball for two yards and was tackled short of the goal line. Seattle had no timeouts left and the clock expired.

    MY TAKE: We got a lot of Tweets on this one, wondering if the officials should have stopped play because the Cincinnati players were delaying Lynch from getting up and allowing Seattle to run another play.

    I say no. If you are going to run the ball up the middle with 14 seconds left and no timeouts, that’s what you get.

    It was a normal pile up. The ball did not get batted by a Cincinnati player -- it was inadvertently knocked further into the end zone. The officials did what they were supposed to do, which is to get the ball spotted as quickly as they could, but time expired. End of story.