Week 11: Browns at Lions
The headline is but a part of the story, as Marla Ridenour of the Akron Beacon Journal reports: “Browns’ defensive captain takes blame for loss.” After a the Browns had a commanding 21-point lead in the first quarter, the Lions were able to take the lead, literally beyond the 60th minute of regulation.
The Browns captain is veteran linebacker David Bowens, and, as the headline suggested, he took responsibility for the loss on behalf of the entire defense:
It’s my fault. If you want to blame somebody, blame me. I have to take ownership as a captain and as the defense’s signal-caller. The offense did a great job today, they scored enough points for us to win. Totally on us. Totally on us.
The rest of the team, apparently, was out to blame the officiating for the loss.
The Lions were given a second chance at the end of the game when a Hail Mary pass was flagged for defensive pass interference. With no time remaining on the clock, the quarter was extended by one untimed down by rule, with the Lions getting the ball on the 1-yard line. The Lions scored the game-winning touchdown, snapping the ball with 0:00 showing on the clock (video of penalty and touchdown).
Pass interference penalty
Frequently with these up-for-grabs, desperation passes, penalties are not called, even though there is a fair amount of contact. The reason is that players that are playing the ball (either to catch or deflect it) are allowed reasonable incidental contact. In this play, cornerback Hank Poteat blocks a Lions receiver from playing the ball and pushes him out of bounds. Impeding the ability to play the ball is most certainly a penalty, both for the offense and the defense. Brodney Pool, whose interception was nullified by penalty, claimed ignorance of the rules:
It’s very tough, man, to have the game decided on the referee. I don’t think it’s fair to the players or the guys who went out there and fought. At the end of the game to make a call like that, it hurts.
I thought by rules once a quarterback is out of pocket, everything is live and if you have a receiver running on the end line I thought you could push him out so he can’t come back in and catch the ball. I think guys do that a lot. For the game to be decided like that, it’s not fair to this team, the coaches, the players who went out there.
If I were on the Browns’ coaching staff, I would be concerned that a fifth-year safety does not understand the rules of pass interference. It is also quite disingenuous to say it is not fair to be penalized for an obvious foul just because it happens on the last play of the game. Two officials threw flags on the play (back judge Gregory Steed and side judge Michael Banks), so it fair to say there was a consensus of the crew. Also, the Browns had one more goal-line stand to prevent the loss, which was not decided by the referees; the Browns failed to prevent the score.
Pool also accepted responsibility for allowing a 75-yard touchdown get by him earlier in the game. These types of plays, not the officials, decide games.
Poteat, a 10-year veteran himself, was quoted by Scott Petrak of the Chronicle-Telegram of Elyria, Ohio:
My understanding is, once the quarterback’s out of the pocket you can force the receiver out of bounds, and that’s what I was trying to do. That’s what I was always coached to do.
However, once the ball is released, that “free contact” ability is off the board. Poteat knows this, which is why he chose his words carefully.
No excessive celebration penalty
Some of the Browns players also took umbrage that the Lions were not penalized 15 yards for an excessive celebration following the final touchdown. At that point the game was tied, pending the extra-point conversion.
Offensive lineman Eric Steinbach, in addition to criticizing the pass interference, though the referees were further to blame:
To top it off, after they score they have a coach on the opposing side run across the field to go celebrate. If you’re going to call a shitty game, keep it consistent.
There is a mistaken belief, expressed in Ridenour’s column, that the extra-point attempt would be moved back 15 yards because of such a penalty.
The fact that there may have been an excessive celebration is irrelevant in this particular situation. Essentially, the Lions, by virtue of the end of a half, could not be penalized. Well, they could be penalized, but it would not result in enforcement.
An excessive celebration or taunting foul following a touchdown is enforced on the ensuing kickoff. In this case, there is none, so any penalty would essentially be disregarded. Had there been a delay in spotting the ball, the Lions could have been penalized five yards for delay of game, which would have been enforced on the extra-point try.
Obviously, there is safety in blaming the officials when a team blows a commanding lead.