Rare rulings surface in Week 16
The world was supposed to end last Friday according to the Mayans, but it's a good thing it didn't or we would have missed the two out-of-this-world endings that took place Sunday. Both plays involved changes that rule-makers implemented decades ago in anticipation that doomsday would not happen.
At least not until the Cubs win the World Series.
The first play took place at the end of the Washington-Philadelphia game.
The Situation: Philadelphia had the ball, second-and-5 at the Washington 5-yard line with 8 seconds left in the game. Washington led 27-20.
The Play: Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles took the snap from the shotgun and had to scramble and then threw an incomplete pass with 1 second left on the clock. Foles was called for intentional grounding, a 10-second run off was enforced and the game was declared over.
My Take: In 1955, NFL rules makers felt there were certain situations when the offensive team was rewarded for penalties they committed inside of 1-minute that stopped the clock and gave them extra time to run plays. Therefore, they passed a rule that stated that 10 seconds would be taken off of the game clock when these fouls were committed. Not all fouls were covered by this rule.
Basically, the rule covered false starts that prevented the snap while the clock was running. Fouls that occurred during the play were not included with the exception of intentional grounding, illegal forward pass from beyond the line, throwing a backward pass out of bounds and any other intentional foul that causes the clock to stop.
In 2007, they added spiking the ball in the field of play to the 10-second runoff rule. On this play, Foles had rolled out of the pocket and attempted to avoid an intentional grounding call by passing the ball back to the line of scrimmage. The ball actually landed one yard short of the line, and the rule specifically says that you must get the ball back to the line of scrimmage or beyond. When referee Ed Hochuli got the information from his crew that the ball did not make it back to the line, he called intentional grounding. And since there was only 1 second left, the ensuing 10-second run off ended the game. The 10-second runoff rule that actually ends a game is rare. Maybe 2-3 times a year total.
The second play involved the end of the New Orleans-Dallas game in overtime, won by the Saints 34-31.
The Situation: New Orleans had the ball, second-and-9 at the Dallas 33-yard line with 10:50 left in overtime. The score was tied 31-31.
The Play: New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees took the snap in the shotgun and completed a 9-yard pass to Marques Colston. The ball was knocked out of Colston's hands by the Cowboys' Morris Claiborne and rolled all the way to the Dallas 2-yard line before being recovered by the Saints' Jimmy Graham.
My Take: Lots of confusion about this play. Remember the "holy roller" play when Oakland's Dave Casper ended up recovering a fumble that had been batted and kicked into the end zone for a victory over San Diego in 1978? The rules-makers did not like the fact that a team could do something bad (fumble) and gain an advantage by allowing a teammate of the fumbling player to recover in advance of the spot of the fumble.
So in 1979, they passed the fumble rule that states only the player that fumbles the ball can recover and/or advance the ball. They were specific to say that this fumble rule applied only inside of 2 minutes of either half on fourth down or on two-point attempts. This play happened in overtime, which is played under fourth-quarter timing rules.
Since it was second down and there was 10:50 left in OT, the fumble rule did not apply and the recovery by Graham was allowed. The Saints kicked a field goal on the next play to win the game.
The final play I want to address happened in the Giants-Ravens game.
The Situation: Baltimore had the ball, first down and 9 at the New York 9-yard line with 7:37 left in the second quarter. Baltimore led 14-7.
The Play: Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco completed a 9-yard pass to Jacoby Jones, who dove for the end zone for a touchdown. After a review, the play was reversed to an incomplete pass.
My Take: When defining a catch, the rule book states that a receiver must first control the ball, then get both feet clearly down and finally maintain control of the ball long enough to perform an act common to the game. Acts common to the game are described as being able to pitch the ball, pass it, advance with it or avoid or ward off an opponent, etc.
This also applies to a receiver who is going to the ground to complete the catch. If on the way to the ground he is able to turn up field in an attempt to advance, or if he's able to reach the ball out to gain extra yardage, which could include a first down or a touchdown, he is deemed to have completed the catch.
On this play, since Jones reached the ball out to break the plane before he hit the ground, he is deemed to perform an act common to the game — or as officials call it, a second act. This should have remained a touchdown and not have been overturned. There was clearly not indisputable evidence to overturn the ruling.
The interesting thing about this play is that this same officiating crew faced a similar decision a couple of weeks ago and let the ruling of a touchdown stand. They were subsequently told by the NFL that there was not enough of a second act and that the ruling should have been reversed to an incomplete pass. That had to weigh on their mind when they ruled on this play and certainly influenced this decision.
Officials are held accountable for their calls on the field and they are graded. But grading can negatively influence what they do down the road. There is too much emphasis on grading, but that's another subject for another time.