Strange call costs Falcons

BY foxsports • January 8, 2012

That was outta sight.

No, I'm not referring to the Giants' 24-2 NFC wild-card victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, though it was quite impressive. I'm talking about the most significant play of the game, which was never seen. At least not by anybody who wasn't at MetLife Stadium.

Here was the situation:

Atlanta had the ball, second-and-10 at the Giants 30-yard line with 5:10 left in the third quarter. The Giants led 10-2. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan attempted a pass to Tony Gonzalez that was incomplete. The Falcons then took a timeout. And FOX took a commercial.

During the commercial, a delayed penalty was called on Atlanta for 12 men being in the huddle. I can't remember ever seeing that before.

The Falcons knew they were in trouble and called a timeout in an attempt to avoid a penalty. During the timeout, Giants coach Tom Coughlin complained, and the umpire — who had seen 12 men in the huddle — confirmed to the referee that a penalty should have been called before the timeout was called.

However, it wasn't the umpire's call to make, but he was able to give the referee the information he needed.

The mechanics of how it happened were sloppy. But in the end, the call was correct and the impact it had on the game was dramatic.

Instead of the Falcons having a third-and-10 situation from the Giants' 30-yard line, the penalty turned it into a third-and 15-from the 35.

Ryan then completed a 14-yard pass to Roddy White, which would have been a first down had the penalty yardage not been assessed. Rather, it was a fourth-and-1, Ryan was stuffed on a quarterback sneak and the Giants took over.

Three plays later, quarterback Eli Manning connected with Hakeem Hicks on a 72-yard touchdown pass to put the Giants up 17-2.

Game over. That sequence changed the entire complexion of the game.

I'm often asked why a foul is called on the offense when there are more than 11 players in the huddle. It's because the defense has the right to match up with offensive substitutions.

If you huddle with more than 11 players, the defense has no idea who is coming out, and therefore is severely disadvantaged in determining the proper substitutions it needs to make to match up with the offensive changes.

Atlanta did not get its timeout back after being penalized. Not that it made a difference, but I think it should have.

I'm afraid what was outta sight will be on the Falcons' minds for quite some time.

Let's take a look of some of the other interesting calls from Sunday’s NFC wild card game.

THE SITUATION: The Giants had the ball, second-and 21 from the New York 13-yard line with 13:50 left in the second quarter. There was no score.

THE PLAY: Giants quarterback Eli Manning faded back to pass into the end zone and threw the ball away while being pressured by Atlanta's James Sanders. Manning was called for intentional grounding and the Falcons were awarded two points.

MY TAKE: This was intentional grounding, regardless of whether Manning was inside or outside the pocket. If he was in, which I think he was, there was no receiver in the area when the ball landed. That is grounding.

If he was out of the pocket, Manning had to get the pass all the way back to or beyond the line of scrimmage. The ball landed four yards short of the line, which makes that grounding as well.

Manning released the pass with the ball in the end zone, making the spot of the foul in the end zone. By rule, that is a safety. Referee Carl Cheffers and his crew did a good job of piecing together all of that information.

THE SITUATION: The Giants had the ball, second-and-10 at the Giants' 37-yard line with 1:37 left in the second quarter. The Giants led 7-2.

THE PLAY: Giants quarterback Eli Manning completed a 9-yard pass to Hakeem Nicks, who was tackled by Atlanta's Dunta Robinson.

MY TAKE: To begin with, this should have been a first down. Hicks caught the ball in the air and was contacted by Robinson at the Giants' 48-yard line and driven backwards. However, the head linesman spotted the ball at the 46.

As long as Hicks maintained control of the ball, he gets forward progress to the spot he was first contacted by Robinson. In my opinion, he did maintain possession.

Two questions remain:

1. Why wasn't there a measurement?

2. Why did the replay official not initiate a review, since this occurred inside of two minutes?

Referees will not stop a game to measure inside of two minutes of either half with the clock running, unless the next down becomes fourth down and the first down is in question.

The replay official has the right to stop the game inside of two minutes, especially if he has positive knowledge that the spot would be adjusted and a first down would be gained.

That's what I think should have happened, even though the league is cognizant that stopping a running clock inside of two minutes likely creates an advantage for one of the two teams.

THE SITUATION: The Giants had the ball, third-and-4 from the Atlanta 4-yard line with 7:55 left in the third quarter. The Giants led 7-2.

THE PLAY: Giants quarterback Eli Manning attempted a 4-yard pass to Hakeem Nicks in the end zone but it was incomplete. Atlanta's Chris Owens was defending on a tight play that some felt was pass interference.

MY TAKE: A much as I disagreed with some of the spots and calls in this game, I like the fact that the officials didn't call interference on this play. There was contact by Owens, but the contact occurred after Manning was out of the pocket and, therefore, illegal contact could not be called.

When the pass was in the air, Owens had his right arm around Hicks' waist. Owens then went around Nicks' left side and knocked the ball away. There certainly was contact, but was it enough to "significantly hinder" Nicks' ability to catch the pass? That's what the rule book says and I don't think it was.

I have always said when it comes to pass interference: call the big ones and let the ticky-tack ones go. This was a good example of that.