A little late, but we have clarification on a confusing call in the divisional playoffs.
It was a call that defied explanation when Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey was flagged for hitting Steelers running back Le’veon Bell out of bounds on a third quarter pass (video). The prevailing opinion was that the officials were duped into calling a foul when in fact Ramsey was pushed into Bell by receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Initial appearances, based on the timing of the flags, were that Ramsey was being assessed a late hit foul. However, the announcement by referee Brad Allen was not for a personal foul, late hit, unnecessary roughness, or any foul that aligns with that. Instead, it was announced that the foul was for unsportsmanlike conduct. This means that there was something else being called, because it also was announced that the foul was subject to the two-step ejection rule, meaning another foul of that type by Ramsey would have been an automatic disqualification. Late hits are not part of that rule, only certain unsportsmanlike conduct fouls are.
We asked the league to comment on the call, and they declined. But, we were able to ascertain the details with a source that has knowledge of what the officials specifically cited in the game report.
The crew did not flag the out-of-bounds contact, recognizing that Ramsey was, in fact, pushed into the contact. After a conference with Allen, line judge Julian Mapp and field judge Joe Larrew determined that Ramsey had knocked the ball out of Bell’s hands, which placed it in the taunting category, which does fall under the two-step ejection rule.
Unfortunately, they were not entirely accurate in the post-play reconstruction, as the ball did not come out because of Ramsey swiping at it. We have the benefit of seeing multiple replays of the play. The replay booth can’t help out in the general administration of fouls.
It wound up being more punitive to the Jaguars, because Ramsey played nearly half a game with the possibility of being ejected for a second offense. Not only would it put Ramsey in a position to avoid picking up the “red card” from the officials, but also it becomes an advantage for the opponent to try to draw such a foul from Ramsey.
Ramsey was ejected in Week 9 of the regular season when he got in a post-play altercation with Bengals receiver A.J. Green. Like this situation, it appeared that an opponent’s actions got Ramsey in trouble, although it was later revealed he was warned. It was a different officiating crew (and different responsible officials), but in both games, Allen was the referee.
As for the foul in the divisional playoff game, it was not the correct call, but we have clarity as to how the call was made.