Zebra Report: Don't Trust Announcers
A broadcaster's job is to provide commentary along with the game. Thus, many fans are far too trusting when it comes to the application of the rules. Sure, many people think they are smarter than the announcers in some instances, but, for the most part, we've had certain things ingrained in our heads for so long -- "half can't end on a defensive penalty," for example -- we start to believe it. Then, when we see otherwise, we automatically assume the officials -- the ones actually paid to know the rules -- are the idiots.
That's a mistake.
Let us be cautious. On three different instances this weekend -- and I didn't see every game in its entirety, so there's a chance the number is far higher -- I heard broadcasting crews emphatically state rules incorrectly.
- First up, the notorious Raiders' touchdown reversal. I don't really want to get into a whole big thing here, because I've already done that in Nancy Gay's post on the subject. The most important part of the rule is this (from page 50 of the NFL Rule Book):
Item 1: Player Going to the Ground. If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball after he touches the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone.
Using that clause, it's impossible to argue the officials applied the rule incorrectly. If you think the ball never moved when it hit the ground in your judgment, OK. That's the only argument that can be made. The officials don't agree with that assessment, but it's definitely a judgment call at that point -- and I'm not getting into questioning those. Mike Golic on ESPN had a problem with it, but the way he was explaining it illustrated that he disagreed with the rule itself, not the interpretation of it on this particular play. And he's not alone.
Most of the more intelligent arguments I've seen boil down to the fact that people just don't like the rule. Many feel once a receiver has possession and both feet are down, it should be a touchdown. I'm not going to argue with that, but please understand that's not the current rule. You should be angry at the people who make the rules, not the people who enforce them (the officiating crew). Do you scream at a server in a restaurant if your food tastes like garbage? If so, why? He didn't make it, he just dropped it off at your table. Face it, you just don't like the rule (and, frankly, I don't either). File it along with the "tuck rule" (another rule I loathe) as ones you hate.
I've also seen "ground can't cause a fumble." True. But this wasn't a fumble, it was an incomplete pass.
I've seen people ask why it's different than when a runner breaks the plane of the end-zone with the ball and loses it. That's apples and oranges. A runner already has possession of the ball. A receiver has to establish possession, and holding the ball through when he hits the ground is part of the definition of possession.
Finally, I find it hilarious that people are taking the time to type out things like "they misinterpreted the rule" and then explaining why. Um, seriously? Did you write the rule? This is like going up to an airline pilot and telling him he's approaching the runway incorrectly. Like telling a surgeon she's holding her scalpel incorrectly. Like telling an engineer you could do a better job designing a safe bridge than he could. What a joke.
Anyway, if I ever hear of this play again, it will be too soon. Far too much scrutiny for a call in Week 1 that didn't even decide the game (the Raiders still could have stopped the Chargers at the end). And, Raider fans, enough with the conspiracy theories. No officials care which teams wins, contrary to what many have been saying.
Let me wash my hands now.
OK. Ready to move on ...
- As I said in the open, announcers don't always necessarily know the rules. A great example -- and perfect tie-in to last week's report -- happened in the Texans-Jets tilt. Matt Schaub got sacked and was clearly taken down by his collar. Jim Nantz thought horse-collar penalty should have been called. Phil Simms was trying to act like he knew why it wasn't, but he said something insanely dumb like, "it's because he wasn't running." Uhh, what? I don't even know what that means. Had Phil read last week's edition of Zebra Report, he would have known you can't be penalized for a horse-collar when taking down the quarterback while he's still between the tackles. It's one of the exceptions.
- In that same game, the Texans' defense got called for taunting at the conclusion of the first half, but the period was not extended for an untimed play. But why? We've had it ingrained in our heads for our entire football-watching lives that a half can't end on a defensive penalty. Right? Well, not necessarily. Here's the specific portion of the "Extension of a Period or Half rule that applies here (4-8-2b, page 23):
"If there is a defensive personal foul following the end of the second or fourth periods that occurs in the action immediately after the end of a down, the offensive team may choose to extend the period for an untimed down."
The offense can decline the penalty and go straight to halftime. In this case, the official play-by-play results of the game say it was declined. I have to say, though, I can't understand why the Jets would have done so. I wasn't watching the game at this exact moment, but it appears the Jets had just moved the ball to the Houston 18 yard line. A 15-yard penalty, in this case, would move the ball half the distance to the goal-line. They'd get an untimed play from the nine, but they declined this? No field goal or shot at the end-zone? I'm admittedly lost. I searched for an exception through pretty much the entire rule book, to see if there was a rule saying they'd have to decline the penalty. There doesn't appear to be one. We have this (4-8-2d, page 24):
If there is a personal foul or unsportsmanlike conduct foul that (1) is not in the continuing action immediately after the end of a down and (2) occurs between the end of the second period and the beginning of the third period (or between the end of the fourth period and the beginning of an overtime period), the penalty shall be enforced on the ensuing kickoff.
But nothing was enforced on the kickoff in the second half -- and I'm pretty sure the taunting foul was "in the action immediately" after the play, so this section wouldn't apply anyway. If anyone has any insight as to why the Jets declined the penalty, I'd love to hear it. Leave it in the comments section. I believe Ed Hochuli worked this game, so it's possible he gave a detailed explanation. Let me know in the comments if you heard anything. (see, interactivity is fun). Thanks to reader Josh from New York for the submission of this play.
- Donovan McNabb got hurt when taking a hit after he scored a touchdown. Whether or not it was late is purely a judgment call, so you can decide for yourself. The league already ruled they were fine with the no-call. You have to consider if you can reasonably expect guys moving at full speed to pull up or not. I did want to clarify something on the play, though. Forget about if you heard a whistle or not. Whistles are a formality most of the time (obvious exception is when a player is still on his feet but forward progress is stopped). It is the responsibility of the players to know when the play ends -- specifically when a runner is on the ground, out of bounds or in the end-zone. You could technically have a play end without a whistle, though you shouldn't expect to see one anytime soon for obvious reasons.
- Illegal contact has drawn the ire of fans in the early going. Looking specifically at a call against the Packers on Sunday night, Devin Hester appeared to have been contacted at exactly five yards off the line of scrimmage. It raised an interesting question: Why can't this be reviewed? Obviously, I'm totally against reviewing judgment calls, but is this really judgment? He's either outside five yards or he's not. You can review whether or not 12 men are on the field and whether or not the passer was across the line of scrimmage when throwing the ball downfield, so it seems to me you could review the 5-yard zone for this in addition to things such as players removing their helmets on the field (like Santonio Holmes did in the Super Bowl, though none of the officials saw him as they were in a conference about the actual play). Again, though, that's not up to the guys in stripes.
And ... exhale. We'll try to be less wordy next week and instead cover more plays, but it's a long season. We'll have time to discuss nearly every confusing rule we come across. See ya next week!
Got a rules-related question? Whether it's elementary, high school or NFL, email TZR and he'll see what he can do. He will not be replying to a single email concerning the Raiders touchdown reversal. No mas.