Zebra Report: Favre's Bounty, More Conference Title Items
What a great Sunday of conference championships. We saw a well-played AFC championship game and then an exciting, see-saw NFC title matchup. Unfortunately, as is always the case in close games of vital importance, there were several controversies in terms of the officiating as far as many fans were concerned. Let's just remember, here in the Zebra Report, a missed call is a missed call. Players and coaches make mistakes and so do the officials. We'll dissect how those mistakes may have happened or if they were even mistakes at all.
If you're a conspiracy theorist, hey, that's your choice. I'd like to know why the league would want the Indianapolis market over the New York one in the Super Bowl (and, yes, the New York media market trumps Peyton Manning) or how they can force Manning's precision throws to slice through that defense so easily. I'd also like to know how the officials forced the Vikings to bring 12 players into the huddle, made Brett Favre throw that final pick in regulation or caused Adrian Peterson to rub butter all over his hands before half his carries. But it's fine with me if people want to claim conspiracy. I get it. Why hold anything or anyone you support accountable when you can so easily shift the blame elsewhere, as irrational and nonsensical as it might be?
So, yeah, it's a personal choice. The true Zebra Report followers and I have not made that choice. This is a conspiracy-free zone. If you like reality and truly want to analyze the officiating, please read on and let's have some fun.
• Several emailers and commenters have pointed out that the Saints were, shall we say, a bit rough with Mr. Favre Sunday evening. Several even went as far as to suggest the Saints were intentionally trying to hurt Favre and one creative emailer dubbed the game the "Bounty Bowl." Now, many of the hits were really rough and perfectly legal. I can think of a great example where Darren Sharper came like a bullet through the middle of the defense and took a single step after Favre released the pass before lighting him up in the chest with his shoulder. Every aspect of this is legal. You can't just say something should be illegal because a 40-year-old quarterback is slow to get to his feet. Most of the plays were like this -- just good timing by the defense.
Now, one time the Saints were flagged for roughing the passer as the defender drove Favre unnecessarily into the turf. So the officials were looking to protect Favre against any potential bounty. Another time the Saints destroyed Favre after a hand-off and were called for unnecessary roughness. Plus, watch the replay (by clicking here and checking out the play at the 1:17 mark) and tell me that the hit against Mark Sanchez (next bullet-point in this report) in the first game wasn't far more egregious. In fact, in fast motion on the Favre play you could argue the defender had no way of knowing whether Favre handed off or faked.
I will say the play where Favre rolled his ankle was definitely questionable, though. Watch the video beginning at the 5:52 mark. Here's the rule that pertains specifically to this instance (12-2-13):
(5) A rushing defender is prohibited from forcibly hitting in the knee area or below a passer who has one or both feet on the ground, even if the initial contact is above the knee. It is not a foul if the defender is blocked (or fouled) into the passer and has no opportunity to avoid him;
Note 1: A defender cannot initiate a roll or lunge and forcibly hit the passer in the knee area or below, even if he is being contacted by another player.
I'd be interested to hear arguments that this shouldn't have been called because, to me, it's pretty cut and dry roughing under the famed "Tom Brady Rule."
• Sunday evening I presented another special edition Zebra Report to cover the hit on Mark Sanchez which threw Jets head coach Rex Ryan into a fury. One thing I failed to mention that several astute readers correctly pointed out is that the Jets had been running play-action pass pretty successfully earlier in the game. There still seemed like a decent gap between the hand-off and the hit, but it's a very realistic explanation as to why unnecessary roughness wasn't called.
• Via my inbox, it has been called into question whether the Colts offense legally sets themselves prior to the snap. We all know the entire offense has to be set for the snap, other than the fact that one man may go in motion or the quarterback may lift his leg at the snap to signal for the ball. But once the Colts' offense is on the line and Peyton starts doing his vintage Peytonisms, everyone turns their heads and/or shoulders in order to hear what he's saying before they re-set. Here are the two portions of the illegal motion and false start guidelines that apply to what they are doing (I have put emphasis on certain parts in bold):
(7-2-6) Note 2: Non-abrupt movement of head and/or shoulders by offensive players prior to the snap is legal. Players must come to a stop before ball is snapped. If officials judge the action of the offensive players to be abrupt, false start foul is to be called.
(7-2-7) After a shift or huddle all offensive players, after assuming a set position, must come to an absolute stop. They also must remain stationary in their position without any movement of their feet, head or arms, or swaying of their body for a period of at least one second before snap.
It's also worth noting that eligible receivers, such as the tight end, can put their hand down on the ground in the form of a three-point stance and bring it back up (as long as it is deemed non-abrupt), but offensive lineman cannot. Once one of the five ineligible receivers puts his hand on the ground, it cannot come back up -- or else it is a false start.
• Generally speaking, many fans were complaining about holding not being called on -- collectively, if I piece together all the comments and emails -- all four teams. This just seemed to be a case where the officials were letting the offensive lineman play in an offensive oriented league. I'm not sure what's so shocking. Plus, do we really want to see flags peppering the field all game in the final four of the NFL? Personally, I'm glad they let them play.
• Reggie Bush's pylon touchdown was the obvious correct call. Anyone arguing otherwise has extreme bias or doesn't know the rules. Plain and simple.
• Robert Meachem's catch in overtime was the source of many complaints as well. Check out the play on the video here at the 13:35 mark. Here is the specific entry that applies from the rule book (8-1-4):
Item 4: Ball Touches Ground. If the ball touches the ground after the player secures control of it, it is a catch, provided that the player continues to maintain control.
Yes, Meachem bobbled the ball and the way he had his hands on it when the ball may have touched the ground was awkward, but it's clear enough the ball had stopped moving and he maintained control of it through his contact with the ground. Any touch of the ground -- or movement during said touch -- was incredibly slight and you're dealing with a burden of "indisputable evidence" on a replay review.
• Pierre Thomas' apparent first down as he leapt over the line on a fourth-and-inches has been under the microscope, due mostly to the fact that it appeared Thomas temporarily lost control of the ball and was clearly not past the first down marker once he regained control. Now, the issue here is possession, and if you pay attention to specific wording in the rules, you'll agree it was the correct spot. Start watching the replay by clicking here and checking out the 13:02 mark.
First of all, many people are pointing to the Colts-Patriots game earlier this season when the Pats went for it on fourth down and didn't make the line to gain due to Kevin Faulk bobbling the ball before securing it. Good thinking, but it's apples versus oranges. Faulk was attempting to bring in a pass, therefore he didn't already have possession. In the case of the NFC title game, Thomas already had possession under the definitions presented in the rulebook. Once you have possession, the burden is on the ball coming completely loose to qualify as a loss. See a note under rule 3-2-7:
Note 3: If a player has control of the ball, a slight movement of the ball will not be considered loss of possession. He must lose control of the ball in order to rule that there has been a loss of possession.
Almost losing the ball once you've already established possession is the same as holding it secure and tight. Forward progress, by rule, goes to the furthest point of the ball in possession of a player when he never loses it. Thus, the furthest point of the ball in this play would be the proper spot.
Please also note the officials correctly spotted the Devery Henderson catch on the previous play as he bobbled the catch before securing it and it cost his team a few yards -- which enabled the Thomas play to happen in the first place.
• Finally, the play receiving the most (legitimate) scrutiny was the pass interference call in overtime that helped get the Saints down into field goal range. You can watch the video by simply leaving the video for the above call running in your internet browser. This play is the following highlight (in fact, the following play). When slowed down and viewed from the side, there was no contact on David Thomas and the pass was probably uncatchable anyway. This is a black eye for the crew and I'm sure they'd admit it.
Honestly, it's hard to blame the official who threw the flag, though. Watch the replay again in fast motion and keep in mind his point of view. Watch everything both players do and realize this official doesn't have a great depth perception as to how far the ball went over the intended receiver's head (or the luxury of slow motion replay).
Instead, I'd challenge the crew as a whole on this one. Why didn't the back judge see the ball was uncatchable? His head is on a swivel and by the time the ball was landing he should have seen it bounce. Why didn't the short wing official on the near sideline, who was staring at both players and did not throw his flag, inform the deep wing that there was little-to-no contact? The crew as a whole has the option to pick up the flag and say there was no foul on the play.
Communication is key in all walks of life. When it breaks down, mistakes are made. By the same token, having too much personal pride to admit someone might have had a better view is also a downfall of many. Did the deep wing take things personal, hypothetically-speaking, when someone else suggested to pick up the flag and adamantly convince the other officials he saw something they didn't? We'll never know.
In my opinion -- as someone far less qualified to officiate than every single member of that particular crew -- one of those two mishaps (miscommunication or too much pride) is was what ultimately happened here and a bad mistake was made.
Got a rules-related question? Whether it's an elementary, high school or NFL rule -- or hate mail -- feel free to email TZR. Also, the comments section on the Zebra Report is an open forum. Discussion is encouraged from people who want to discuss the rules like mature adults.