NFL senior vice president of officiating Dean Blandino released the weekly officiating video for the Divisional Playoffs (see below), and covered the illegal substitution penalty on the Cowboys that we covered at length in a post here. The short version of that post confirms what Blandino has since stated: that referee Tony Corrente was correct in his determination of an illegal substitution because the player came inside the numbers to the huddle and did not participate in a legal play. The rule allows for referee discretion and seeks to minimize deception by the offense, specifically noted where there is a coach’s decision to change between a fourth-down attempt and a punt. The rule states that a simulated substitution is when a player approaches the huddle and communicates with a teammate; mechanically, this is a player who has entered the field coming inside the numbers and exits without participating in a play. Blandino confirms this in his assessment:
The theory behind the rule is to prevent the offense from simulating substitutions to confuse the defense, to run players in and out and now the defense isn’t sure, or they get caught with the wrong personnel in the game.
At the end of the half, the Cowboys had a fair catch on a punt. They could also have taken a fair-catch kick by trying to kick the ball through the uprights for 3 points. Normal kickoff rules apply with the 10 yard restraining line, player positioning, and the opposing is allowed to return the kick if it does not go out of bounds (liveblog, :00/2nd qtr.).
In the Seahawks-Falcons game, Blandino covered two separate instances of the catch rule, specifically as it relates to a player going to the ground and not becoming a runner. In the first play, Falcons receiver Justin Hardy caught a pass before going to the ground out of bounds. He appeared to secure the catch while hit the ground and maintained possession. After established control, he lost the ball after rolling into sideline personnel. The play was ruled incomplete but it was overturned (liveblog, 13:45/4th qtr.). In the second play, ruled an intercepted pass because the runner player did not did not maintain control of the ball through hitting the ground. The ball popped up and free and was intercepted by the Falcons. The replay official determined there was enough to confirm the call without having a stop-down review with the referee. Blandino was in the officiating command center for the call, and discussed the confirmation with the replay official (liveblog, 2:29/4th qtr.).
Lastly, Blandino covered the holding penalty on the two point conversion at the end of the Chiefs/Steelers game. The Chiefs left tackle was flagged for holding and negated the two point conversion attempt. A holding foul is determined by several criteria. For a blocker to not be flagged for holding, he must stay square to the defender and be able to continuously move his feet. If a defender gets outside the blocker, the next step is to determine if the blocker reached across the defender to restrict his movement from getting to the ball carrier. Next the referee will determine if the defender used a “rip” technique to gain leverage. If he did, there is no foul for holding unless the blocker causes the defender to lose his feet (liveblog, 2:43/4th qtr.).