The Buccaneers thought a little trickery could get them to draw the Saints into a false start penalty. They did not fool Jerome Boger’s crew, as umpire Tony Michalek, in particular, stepped in with a rarely called foul. Boger’s announcement:
Unsportsmanlike conduct, defense. Making a disconcerting move in an attempt to make the offense false start. Fifteen-yard penalty, automatic first down.
After the penalty was called on the Buccaneers, coach Greg Schiano was incredulous on the sidelines, and lipreaders see him imploring, “He moved!” However, the rulebook is clear; the offense is not expected to remain motionless in the face of unusual movements by the defense simulating the start of the play. Unsportsmanlike conduct is covered in Rule 12-3-1, and includes:
(i) The defensive use of acts or words designed to disconcert an offensive team at the snap. An official must blow his whistle immediately to stop play.
We have discussed disconcerting signals before, but I cannot recall an instance of a disconcerting act.
This is somewhat troubling that Schiano feels this is an acceptable form of shenanigans in the National Football League. While there are times when a defensive player legally charges the line (not at a player) to show an intent to blitz the quarterback, this choreographed effort to have 11 players simulate a snap devolves into cheap play.
This is not an isolated incident. Earlier this season, the Buccaneers blitzed a kneel-down formation against the Giants. Perfectly legal within the rules. But should they have? Schiano says it’s okay, because it is not in the rulebook, even at the risk of injuring a player. The rulebook also doesn’t say that the coaches should shake hands after the game, but, except for notable exceptions, it happens all the time because it is good sportsmanship.
It is because of tactics like Schiano’s that the rulebook gets a little thicker every year.