NFL Rule Book, Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3:
A forward pass is complete (by the offense) or intercepted (by the defense) if a player, who is inbounds:
(a) secures control of the ball in his hands or arms prior to the ball touching the ground; and
(b) touches the ground inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands; and
(c) maintains control of the ball long enough, after (a) and (b) have been fulfilled, to enable him to perform any act common to the game (i.e., maintaining control long enough to pitch it, pass it, advance with it, or avoid or ward off an opponent, etc.).
Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 5—Simultaneous Catch:
If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opponents, and both players retain it, the ball belongs to the passers.
It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control.
The way it looked in real time, Monday night’s controversial final play was a close-enough call that it could have gone either way. Even in slow motion, taking into account the rules on pass completion and simultaneous possession, either interpretation is reasonable.* So the speed and rush of bodies flying around would make it understandable for an official—even a regular official—to error.
But the genuine difficulty of the call, and the ambiguity of the replay, are not what matters today. What matters is the perception surrounding the call.
And the perception is that this is another flub-up that only replacement officials would make. This has been the popular reaction because, for three weeks, we’ve been on the lookout for a game-altering blown call. But it is also the reaction because this particular incident was a perfect tableau of replacement refs’ shortcomings: two officials ran to the play—looked down at the players—looked up at each other—hesitated—made the call—made two calls. Each of which declared a different outcome. It was a boxing referee announcing the winner by raising both fighters’ hands.
And then the scrum: a tangle of players, a jostled official, a hat knocked off. The play is reviewed; the touchdown, upheld; the Packers leave; the Seahawks interview. Minutes pass. Mike Tirico brings up the point after. Pete Carroll interrupts his interview to call for eleven players. Cameras show Packers looking for their helmets. Players slowly make their way to the goal line. Point-after. Sign-off.
The weeks-old anticipation of a controversial game-altering call would be enough to cause the outcry that followed. But the obvious confusion and chaotic aftermath of the play intensified the backlash, and the football world blew its top instantaneously.
Yes, the officials might have missed the call. But it was a tough call, one that the regular refs might also have struggled with. That doesn’t matter, though, as relates to today’s reaction, or to the lockout. What matters is that, because of the uproar, the play will have the same effect as if it had been a blatant, pathetic miscall. The NFL woke up this morning in crisis mode, and either the lockout will be lifted before Thursday night, or we’ll enter a set of week 4 games run by officials with little—if any—real authority left.
[*The key to the entire ruling is the concept of “control” mentioned in Item 5. For Jennings to be considered in full control of the ball, both of his feet have to be on the ground (Rule 8.1.3.b). If his feet aren’t on the ground before Tate gets both hands on the ball, then Jennings has not gained control before Tate, and it is a simultaneous catch (and a touchdown).]
Boxes of the Week
Two of the league’s baby-boom quarterbacks completely carried their offenses this week (as each team totaled exactly 437 net yards):
Andrew Luck, QB, Ind.: 22-46, 313 yards, 2 TD’s, 1 int.; 4 rushes, 50 yards.
Luck accounted for 363 of Indianapolis’s 437 net yards, or 83%.
Jake Locker, QB, Ten.: 29-42, 378 yards, 2 TD’s, 0 int.; 4 rushes, 35 yards.
(With those 35 yards on the ground, Locker was also Tennessee’s leading rusher. Chris Johnson continued to struggle this week, gaining 24 yards on 14 carries, for an average of 1.7 yards per rush.)
Locker accounted for 413 of Tennessee’s 437 net yards, or 95%(!).
Two more points on the officials:
- At what point will they start to quit? I’m sure the pay is nice, but getting cursed at in unison by 70,000 Baltimoreans can’t be a good time, right?
- The players, coaches, media, and fans aren’t the only ones unhappy with the lockout; the football gods are frowning, too. Even before Monday night, they were offering us little warnings of almost-disaster: Kevin Ogletree on Sunday survived a slip on an official’s hat that probably shouldn’t have been thrown in the first place.
And now, on to other things:
- Martellus Bennett is, among other things, a Visionary Architect.
- D.J. Moore hearts Jay Cutler.
- All in a single game this weekend: a Music City Miracle lookalike; a Hail Mary to force overtime; and an overtime loss on an accidental 4th-and-1.
- Baseball caps are awesome. Everyone should wear baseball caps. Alex Smith, “free speech pioneer,” wears baseball caps. The NFL doesn’t like baseball caps. But Bruce Bochy thinks baseball caps are cool.
- “This 25-year-old devout Christian heartthrob has palpable charisma, a radiant magnetism that one of his fellow evangelicals might call a halo.”
- Here are two ridiculous catches from this week.
- It’s very possible that Jim Harbaugh played dumb on Sunday to take advantage of a replacement official.
- Romeo Crennel has the perfect metaphor to describe a team’s first win. (Have you ever tried getting the first pickle out of a jar? It’s tough—but it makes all the other pickles easier to reach.)