Zebra Report: The Usual Suspects
The title, in addition to being lifted from a stellar movie, does not refer to the officials or the players. In fact, the "suspects" in this case are actually abstract. Two separate issues have continually come to the forefront in the discussion of rules this NFL season. We're talking about roughing the passer (specially this darn "Brady rule") and when a catch is completed (fully possessed). Neither issue will go away, and I'm guessing this is going to be a recurring theme. We'll also talk pass interference and an interesting rule on punts, in case you are tired of the usual suspects.
1. Ravens, and pretty much everyone else, take issue with some roughing the passer calls. I don't know if the league isn't being clear enough with the officials, if they are telling them to call too much or what. Whatever it is, something needs to be addressed, because the two roughing calls on Tom Brady -- teamed with the lack of a call when David Garrard was pile-driven into the turf without the football -- were really difficult to justify. I'm putting it as lightly as I can.
To me, it appeared Terrell Suggs was trying to avoid Brady -- not going for his knee -- on the low-hit call. And he didn't hit it with more than a simple little glancing blow that did not displace Brady, so I'm not really sure if his intent matters. I really don't think there's much else to say. We've discussed the rules before and you've seen my thoughts (if not, click on "roughing the passer" in the intro of this piece). Let's hope it gets addressed by the league. I'd like to be able to say the league is making the officials call things too strictly on this specific rule, but then you have the Garrard play as a counter-argument. I would bet they are telling the officials to call it far too strictly -- this is my opinion and it's shared by many others -- on plays involving "blows" to the head and below the waist, but then they aren't protecting the quarterback enough on plays like Garrard's, because that contains just as much physical risk. It's admittedly a mess right now regarding quarterback protection, in my very humble opinion.
I do want to point out the hatred of Brady's prodding the official for a flag is pretty misguided. How is that different than every single wide receiver in the league crying for a pass interference call on nearly every incompletion? Or a defensive lineman screaming for a holding call? Brady was just trying to gain an advantage via the flag. Nothing wrong with that (tip of the cap to my boy Glenn here).
2. Mike Sims-Walker scores a touchdown against the Titans, while the ball seems to come loose when he hits the ground. Apparently MSW is a tripod, because the official said he got "three feet down." I kid. He probably meant some combination of feet and elbows and just didn't clarify. Which is OK. He's an NFL referee, not a public speaker. Regardless, he also explained that Sims-Walker had possessed the ball through the ground when the defender knocked it away, but it was pretty sudden when they hit the ground. Remember Item 1 of the rule:
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.
This one, again, was very close. In the judgment of the officials, they were saying the ball was batted away from Sims-Walker once he had already maintained possession through hitting the ground -- like his hitting the ground and maintaining possession (thus completing the catch) was a separate and distinct action than the defensive back batting the ball away. I'm definitely on the board with the logic. The question here is if you agree with the judgment that it was two separate acts or if the batting occurred as Sims-Walker was still hitting the ground.
3. Charles Woodson interception negated by pass interference. This call didn't actually have an impact on the game, because the Packers were also offsides on the play. Thus, the pick would have been negated anyway. Still, this drew the ire of many fans, as it appeared Woodson didn't interfere with the receiver's ability to make the catch. There are seven ways to draw an interference call. Here you go (Rule 8-5-2):
(a) Contact by a player who is not playing the ball that restricts the opponent's opportunity to make the catch.
(b) Playing through the back of an opponent in an attempt to make a play on the ball.
(c) Grabbing an opponent's arm(s) in such a manner that restricts his opportunity to catch a pass.
(d) Extending an arm across the body of an opponent, thus restricting his ability to catch a pass,and regardless of whether the player committing such act is playing the ball.
(e) Cutting off the path of an opponent by making contact with him, without playing the ball.
(f) Hooking an opponent in an attempt to get to the ball in such a manner that it causes the opponent's body to turn prior to the ball arriving.
(g) Initiating contact with an opponent by shoving or pushing off, thus creating a separation in an attempt to catch a pass.
Note: If there is any question whether player contact is incidental, the ruling should be no interference.
So, what do you think? Did Woodson do any of those things?
4. A member of the Broncos punt team, while touching the goal line, bats the football back into the field of play. Cowboys returner Patrick Crayton picks up the ball and starts running with it, but whistles blow the play dead and the officials call a touchback. This one isn't as easy as it sounds. Well, maybe it is.
(Rule 9-4-1, p. 65, paraphrased) The [punt] is dead immediately if ... (3) it touches a player of the kicking team who has touched the ground on or behind the receiver's goal line and has not re-established himself in the field of play.
We knew that. But what if the member of the punt coverage team wasn't touching the end zone and was instead in the field of play? Could Crayton have picked up the ball after it was contacted by the opposing player and advanced it? If you answered yes, you are 100 percent correct. Check out Rule 9-2 (p. 64):
"First touching" is when a player of the kicking team touches a scrimmage kick that is beyond the line of scrimmage before it has been touched by a player of the receiving team beyond the line. If the ball is first touched by a player of the kicking team,nit remains in play. First touching is a violation, and the receivers shall have the option of taking possession of the ball at the spot of first touching, provided no penalty is accepted on the play, or at the spot where the ball is dead. First touching does not offset a foul by the receivers.
So, if you see the ball, on a punt, hit a member of the punting team and an official throws his beanbag on the ground to mark the spot, that's why. First touching is always an option for the receiving team, and it actually makes the play a free one for the return unit. Say a defender touches the ball at the 20-yard line and a returner picks it up and ends up running backward and being eventually tackled way back at the five. The return team can elect to take the ball at the 20 -- the spot of first touching. In fact, assuming there are no penalties on the receiving team, the receiving team could fumble the football away and still retain possession by taking the ball back at the spot of first touching by the punt team. (I'm still dreading ever having to call that in a hotly contested high school game ... the odds of my crew and I leaving safely would probably not be good).
That's all we have for this week. Remember, we're here to discuss rules, not necessarily just missed calls. For example, Alex Brown of the Bears was called for a facemask on Kevin Smith during the Lions' opening drive Sunday. Replays showed he had Smith around the upper neck area and definitely not the facemask. We don't need to discuss plays like that because it's pretty obvious what the rule is and that the official just made an honest mistake. Our mission here is to the discuss the actual rules and interpretations of them.
Got a rules-related question? Whether it's elementary, high school or NFL, email TZR and he'll see what he can do.