Officials hold their ground in Tampa

Published Oct. 21, 2012 1:00 a.m. EDT

Josh Freeman nearly had the magic touch Sunday.

Instead, an illegal touch cost the Tampa Bay quarterback and Bucs a chance to tie the New Orleans Saints on the last play of the game on one of the most interesting calls that happened during Week 7.

Here was the situation: Tampa Bay had the ball, fourth-and-goal at the New Orleans 9-yard line with five seconds to go in the game. The Saints led 35-28.

Freeman took the snap out of the shotgun and under pressure, scrambled out of the pocket. Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Williams made the catch for what looked like the game-tying touchdown. However, while running the route, Williams was pushed out of bounds by Saints defender Patrick Robinson and then returned to the field of play prior to making the catch. The Bucs were called for an illegal touch penalty, nullifying the touchdown.


Lots of things to consider on this play. The first is that Williams was pushed out of bounds by Robinson, well beyond five yards. Normally this would be illegal contact, but with Freeman just out of the pocket, the restrictions for illegal contact do not apply. It is legal to push a receiver out of bounds, which is exactly what Robinson did.

Since Williams was legally pushed out of bounds, he could not return in bounds and be the first to touch the pass. When he did, it made the play an illegal touch. A foul against the offense on the last play of the game, ends the game, even if the play results in a touchdown.

This was a very complex play and the officials deserve a lot of credit for making the proper call. This was a play that could have made the difference between winning and losing that involved at least three different elements.

A shout-out is deserved for field judge Dyrol Prioleau. He tossed his hat, indicating that Williams was out of bounds, did not call the illegal contact because Freeman was out of the pocket and then called the foul for illegal touching. That's as good as it gets.

Safety or not?

And finally, I want to go "Throwback Thursday" on you. Let's take a look at a controversial play that happened at the end of the 49ers-Seahawks game.

Here was the situation: Seattle had the ball, fourth-and-17 at the Seattle 4-yard line with 57 seconds left in the fourth quarter. San Francisco led 13-6.

Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson completed a pass to Ben Obomanu, but Seattle's Paul McQuistan and Breno Giacomini were called for a chop block in the end zone against the 49ers' Aldon Smith. The call which would have resulted in a safety, however, San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh declined the penalty. The replay official challenged the first down ruling, and the play was upheld.

First of all, it was not a chop block. McQuistan hit Smith at the waistline. In order for a chop block to be illegal, the contact would have to be at the thigh or lower.

This led to a strange sequence of events, which ended up with a review of the spot and a declination of the chop block call and what would have been a safety.

Lots of questions came in. First, if San Francisco would have accepted the safety, Seattle would have been able to onside kick the safety kick. The rules are exactly the same as a normal kickoff with the exception of the fact that you cannot use a tee, but you can have a player hold the ball on the ground.

You can have a player hold the ball on the ground. When it was all said and done, I think Harbaugh made the right decision because if Seattle got the onside kick, they would have run more plays and risked more injuries when it was clear that San Francisco was going to win either way.

The game, in my mind, was one of the poorest officiated games since the "replacement officials" era. It seemed an appropriate, confusing ending. It was also appropriate that the chop block penalty ended up being declined, since it was an incorrect call.