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Steelers sideline call could have gone 3 ways (or more)

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Week 3: Steelers at Panthers (video)

What seemed to be a second-quarter touchdown by Steelers receiver Markus Wheaton was ruled incomplete because he stepped out of bounds. After stepping on the sideline, it was ruled that Wheaton never placed two feet back in bounds before he jumped to catch the pass. Without that second foot down in bounds, Wheaton is like any out-of-bounds person or object, even though his body is in the field of play. Once the pass touches Wheaton, it is out of bounds and incomplete.

However, it does appear that Wheaton might have re-established himself in bounds with both feet. That means the pass that touches him is not incomplete, but it is an illegal touching penalty. Any player that goes out of bounds during the play cannot re-enter and be the first player to touch a pass. This was reviewable, and it would mean that the Steelers would challenge to have a penalty assessed on them. Assuming there is a reversal, it places Wheaton in bounds, and the Panthers would have to accept the penalty to negate the touchdown. This would have given the Steelers a 3rd-and-goal from the 11.

The step out of bounds would also be challengeable, but there was no angle that gave any conclusive evidence. But both the step out and the act of re-establishing in bounds would be reviewed under the same challenge.

Why wasn’t defensive pass interference called? Both players were doing a mutual hand fighting there, so no foul is called. But if there was defensive pass interference only, Wheaton would be out of bounds as a result of a foul. In that case, Wheaton would be eligible if he re-established in bounds (which would still require a Steelers challenge to get the touchdown).

So let’s flip this scenario around. Had a touchdown been called, the replay official would have exclusive jurisdiction over the replay, and it could be reversed to either illegal touching or incomplete (out-of-bounds). It also could stand as a touchdown for lack of conclusive evidence.

But, the Steelers should have challenged the original ruling, because they were likely to get the ball at the 11 for a third down.

Image: NFL/NBC Sports

Ben Austro
Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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One thought on “Steelers sideline call could have gone 3 ways (or more)

  1. Very interesting case in which a team *wants* a penalty to be called on them in order to get the down over, albeit with a 10 yard penalty.

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