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NFC Championship officiating



Packers at Bears

Terry McAulay is the referee (full crew) in his fifth conference championship game.

Final | Packers 21-14. Penalties: Packers 6 for 40 yards, Bears 9 for 89 yards, none declined or offsetting. Two replay reviews: one coach’s challenge (Bears) was reversed and one booth review was upheld.

4th Quarter | 2:33 remaining | Packers 21-14. After much deliberation by referee Terry McAulay and his crew, an intentional grounding call was penalized on Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie. While there was no receiver at the location where the pass landed, a receiver (no sure who) was running a route that would have put him there. Generally, off-target passes are not penalized as such, and difficult to do in post-play reconstruction by the officials without the benefit of replay. In my opinion, this should not have been penalized.

4th Quarter | 9:32 remaining | Packers 14-7. A punt by the Packers was ruled a touchback because the player covering the punt stepped in the end zone. He needed to establish two feet in bounds prior to touching the ball. By diving for the ball, he did not re-establish in the field of play.

4th Quarter | 12:05 remaining | Packers 14-0. A completion to Bears receiver Johnny Knox was ruled down inside the 1-yard line, with side judge Greg Meyer right next to him who made the call of out-of-bounds. A replay showed that Knox did not step out of bounds, and a touchdown should have scored, but it was not challenged by the Bears. Bears scored a touchdown on the next play.

3rd Quarter | :55 remaining | Packers 14-0. The Bears have placed their third quarterback, Caleb Hanie, in the game just prior to the fourth quarter. If Hanie was listed as an “inactive” third quarterback, then Bears quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Todd Collins are prohibited from returning, even if Hanie is injured. However, sometimes a team will have all three quarterbacks as “active,” which places no restrictions on the third quarterback. (See the Zebra Blog rules school on third quarterbacks.)

We are checking to see if the Bears inactive list specifies Hanie as the inactive third quarterback. (Update, postgame: The gamebook lists seven inactives for the Bears, instead of the usual eight. So Hanie was indeed classified as the inactive third quarterback, who under rule is allowed to enter the game prior to the fourth quarter as long as the other two quarterbacks are benched for the remainder of the game.)

3rd Quarter | 8:35 remaining | Packers 14-0. An interception by the Packers’ Earl Bennett should have been ruled a trapped ball, as it clearly touched the ground. Bears coach Lovie Smith had to use a challenge, and the play was overturned on replay. Not sure of the angle the covering officials had on the play, but that was a huge miss that had to be corrected on replay.

2nd Quarter |  :32 remaining | Packers 14-0 | video. An interception at the 3-yard line by Packers cornerback Sam Shields was placed under review by the replay assistant (2nd play in video clip at :40). Two elements of this play were in dispute: (1) did Shields maintain possession throughout the process of the catch, and (2) did Packers receiver Johnny Knox contact Shields after he caught the ball. If Knox did make contact, Shields would have been ruled down at the 3-yard line, rather than being able to get up and run out to the 11-yard line.

Fox Sports rules analyst Mike Pereira said that the interception should have been overturned. I was focused on the down-by-contact ruling with the limited number of replays the top Fox crew provided, so I cannot comment on the process of the catch. I believe that if you rule that the catch stands, Shields should be ruled down at the 3. (Update, post-game: Looking at the clip, I didn’t see anything decisive to overturn the interception, as it appears that Shields got his hand under the ball. Not sure if Pereira based his decision on another replay that was provided to him while we were in commercial.)

2nd Quarter | 1:52 remaining | Packers 14-0. After a fairly quiet and fast paced first half, an infrequent ruling came into play on a fumble by Jay Cutler. A fumble with less than two minutes remaining in either half cannot be advanced by any player on the offense, other than the player who fumbled. Since the ball was recovered behind Cutler, the spot of the recovery becomes the dead-ball spot, because it is more disadvantageous to the offense. From the rulebook, Rule 8, Section 7, Article 6:

Fumble After Two-Minute Warning. If a fumble by either team occurs after the two-minute warning:

(a) The ball may be advanced by any opponent.

(b) The player who fumbled is the only player of his team who is permitted to recover and advance the ball.

(c) If the recovery or catch is by a teammate of the player who fumbled, the ball is dead, and the spot of the next snap is the spot of the fumble, or the spot of the recovery if the spot of the recovery is behind the spot of the fumble.

2nd Quarter | 11:13 remaining | Packers 14-0 | video. Tight call made by line judge Mark Perlman on the touchdown by Packers running back James Starks. It was quick, decisive, and correct.

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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