Zebra Report: Wild-Card Round
For the loyal Zebra Report followers, my post late Sunday night was a bit odd for all of us, wasn't it? Over 1,200 comments and counting, not to mention I only posted two calls from the week. The reasoning was simple. I didn't think the two calls toward the end of the game could wait until Wednesday. They were simply too hot a topic to sit for a few days. I've got a list of other plays to review and we'll do so here in a minute.
Loyal ZR readers will get a chuckle out of this, though. I was called a Packers fan and told to quit whining that they lost by several -- obviously new -- readers. Lord knows I never thought I'd see that day. Hey, at least it was entertaining.
If there are readers who stumbled upon ZR for the first time Sunday night or Monday morning and have come back for more, I thank you. We are an interactive community here, with Hall of Fame commenters (Tim C., Guy from Montana, NOLAfan26 and Bears Fan Dan) and everything. Thus, please feel free to leave all the comments or send all the emails you want. I usually reply to everything that needs a reply. I had to forgo replying to comments on the Sunday night piece for obvious reasons, but I did get to nearly every email (and that was quite the chore). Anyway, let's dive in.
• Emanating from the Jets-Bengals game, there was quite an uproar about two illegal contact penalties on Darrelle Revis. Both times, it appeared the receiver pretty much just ran into him. Let's check out the pertinent parts of the rulebook here (Article 8, Section 4):
Article 3 Illegal Contact Beyond Five-Yard Zone. Beyond the five-yard zone, if the player who receives the snap remains in the pocket with the ball, a defender may use his hands or arms only to defend or protect himself against impending contact caused by a receiver. If the receiver attempts to evade the defender, the defender cannot initiate contact that redirects, restricts, or impedes the receiver in any way.
Article 4 Incidental Contact Beyond Five-Yard Zone. Beyond the five-yard zone, incidental contact may exist between receiver and defender as long as it does not materially affect or significantly impede the receiver, creating a distinct advantage.
It seems as though the calls for illegal contact are getting more and more into the incidental zone, but most times this does "significantly impede the receiver." I do think there's at least some worth to calling this, because a defensive back could easily just get in the way of a receiver and allow himself to be run over, claiming he didn't see him. On the other hand, can't a receiver simply run into a defensive back and draw a penalty (which comes with the bonus reward of an automatic first down!)?
So the question is, can we really blame the officials or should we be blaming the rule? We saw a 51-45 playoff game this past weekend, so I think it's pretty evident the league is an offense-oriented one. As long as the revenue keeps piling in, there will be no reason for the league to relax the defensive rules.
• During the Ravens-Patriots game, there was a punt that was muffed by the Ravens and then recovered by the Patriots. Only it wasn't legally recovered. You might recall the Patriots' special teamer was attempting to recover the ball as he flew out of bounds and then completely lost it when he hit the ground. Let's check out the important part of the rule for possession (3-2-7, p. 6):
Note 2: If a player goes to the ground out-of-bounds (with or without contact by an opponent) in the process of attempting to secure possession of a loose ball at the sideline, he must retain complete and continuous control of the ball throughout the act of falling to the ground and after hitting the ground, or there is no possession.
It was pretty shocking that Ravens head coach John Harbaugh didn't challenge this play. At the time, it seemed like a huge momentum turner that allowed the Patriots some life in an otherwise lifeless game. Fortunately, the outcome of the game wasn't altered, because we never want a call to make a big impact like that.
Now, back to the Main Event
• On the final play of the Packers-Cards game, many people emailed me asking why Aaron Rodgers wasn't called for illegally kicking the ball. Well, the ball did hit his foot and we have this rule (12-1-9, p. 80):
No player may deliberately kick any loose ball or ball in player's possession.
Of course, please take note of the word "deliberately" in there. Can you really be certain Rodgers kicked that ball intentionally -- as his face was being tugged downward and his body was being hit hard by a defender, within a period of time that was easily less than one second? I don't think there's any way he possibly did that on purpose.
Also, there is this supplemental note in the rule:
(1) If a loose ball is touched by any part of a player's leg (including knee), it is not considered kicking and is treated merely as touching.
• There were two horse-collar penalties called on the Cardinals which drew the ire of their fans. First, here is the rule (12-2-1d, p. 81):
(All players are prohibited from ... ) (d) grabbing the inside collar of the back of the shoulder pads or jersey, or the inside collar of the side of the shoulder pads or jersey, and immediately pulling down the runner. This does not apply to a runner who is in the tackle box or to a quarterback who is in the pocket.
Now, the time the Cards took Ryan Grant down and were called, it appeared to be a mistake in judgment from the official. In fact, I've attended seminars with NFL officials where they taught us that grabbing the collar and pulling a guy back toward one's self and then wrapping and tackling the runner is not a penalty. You'll note in the rule that it says it's a penalty for committing this act and "immediately" pulling down the runner.
On the second call, when the defender took down Aaron Rodgers from the side of his collar, this was definitely the correct call. Notice in the rule it says that it's illegal to pull the inside of the collar from the side of the shoulder pads and immediately take down the ball-carrier. That's what the Arizona defender did to Rodgers.
• Larry Fitzgerald scored two touchdowns and both have come under intense fire for possibly being offensive pass interference that wasn't called. I may get destroyed for this, but I don't think either one was particularly egregious -- the way the rules are currently set up. Both were, however, close. You can watch the first highlight by clicking here and viewing the video starting at the 2:18 mark.
Now, it definitely looks bad, but are we to really penalize Fitzgerald because he's stronger than Charles Woodson? They were both fighting pretty hard for position and Fitzgerald won. Had he lost the battle and fallen down, would we be wanting defensive pass interference, Packers fans? On the other hand, Fitzgerald definitely did knock down a defender, which you could construe to be a gained advantage. Of course, you could easily argue Woodson initiated the contact and it was past the five-yard buffer zone (making it illegal contact).
As I said, I think it's a toss up.
The next play is on the same video at the 4:45 mark.
Again, it's not near as blatant as many have complained. Fitzgerald was running his route, Woodson got in the way and got knocked over. The receiver is allowed to run his route without being impeded. Now, Fitzgerald did cut off of Woodson and change direction after knocking him down, which many times is construed as a push off, but he never extended his arms or actively appeared to shove Woodson. Was it incidental contact as he simply ran his route and Woodson ran into him? Or did he intentionally bowl over Woodson before the cut in order to create separation?
Like I said above, these were both pretty close. Here are two portions of the rule which could help each individual fan draw his or her own conclusion. (8-5-2 and 8-5-3, pp. 56-57)
Under "prohibited acts," we have this:
(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.
Under "permissible acts," (which means it's allowed), we have these:
(a) Incidental contact by an opponent's hands, arms, or body when both players are competing for the ball, or neither player is looking for the ball. If there is any question whether contact is incidental, the ruling shall be no interference.
(e) Contact by a player who has gained position on an opponent in an attempt to catch the ball. Note 1: When the ball is in the air, eligible offensive and defensive receivers have the same right to the path of the ball and are subject to the same restrictions.
I have seen some mention the offensive pass interference called on Randy Moss in the Ravens-Patriots game as being similar, but it actually wasn't. Moss ran over a defender who was guarding someone else -- and that someone else caught a pass after being freed. That's technically blocking downfield (and you might hear it called a "pick play"), which is explicitly illegal in Rule 8-5-4.
A final consideration that may apply: while defensive pass interference only applies when the ball is in the air, offensive pass interference rules apply from the time the ball is snapped until it is touched after the pass is released.
So, what does everyone think? Please leave thoughts in the comments section -- as long as you are talking about the rules and not some ridiculous conspiracy theory.
• Finally, the NFL has defended the no-call on Rodgers' facemask being grabbed on the final play. Frankly, I'm fine with it not getting called for several reasons -- one of them being that I don't think any particular official could have possibly seen it and another being that I don't believe it affected the play one iota -- but the NFL's defense doesn't satisfy me at all. They said the mask wasn't twisted, turned or pulled and that incidental grabs are no longer illegal. If you look at the picture we posted, it's pretty hard to say the mask wasn't being twisted to Rodgers' right and being pulled down at the same time.
That's all I've got for today, but I have enough leftovers from the 250-plus emails I received to run a mailbag later this week with new material. Expect to see it sometime Friday.
And remember, officials don't decide the outcomes of games. Players do. Blaming the officials is a cop-out and a lack of accountability -- especially when you allowed 45 points in regulation and were the beneficiary of a missed chip-shot field goal just to get into overtime.
Got a rules-related question? Whether it's elementary, high school or NFL, email TZR and he'll see what he can do.