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Bucs’ tying TD nullified on illegal touch foul

Saints at Buccaneers (video)

On the final play of regulation, down by seven points, Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman threw a potential game-tying touchdown pass to receiver Mike Williams. Williams was pushed out of bounds and re-established himself in the end zone prior to catching the pass. However, once you step out of bounds, you may not be the first player to touch the pass, regardless of how you went out of bounds. Therefore, it was illegal touching of a forward pass, and since time had expired, the game was over.

Because Freeman was rolling out of the pocket at that point, it is technically a running play, and illegal contact cannot be called against the defense. Therefore, the push that propelled Williams out of bounds is legal. Had the ball been in the air, it would have been defensive pass interference, extending the game by one untimed down however it would have offset by the illegal touch penalty, also ending the game. (Update, see comments below.)

Rule 8-1-8, with key point highlighted:

It is a foul for illegal touching if a forward pass (legal or illegal), thrown from behind the line of scrimmage … first touches or is caught by an eligible receiver who has gone out of bounds, either of his own volition or by being legally forced out of bounds, and has re-established himself inbounds.

Update 10/22: One other item I neglected to note with all of the attention on the final play is the ruling on the prior play (pictured above and also in the video link). A pass to the back of the end zone was ruled incomplete with the receiver’s heels landing out of bounds. Tony Steratore emphatically and decisively had the call, which was correct in real time without the benefit of replay.

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)

4 thoughts on “Bucs’ tying TD nullified on illegal touch foul

  1. The call was only correct if Freeman was outside of the pocket when the defender initiated contact with the receiver. However, Freeman was not OUTSIDE of the pocket when the defender started pushing the receiver out of the pocket. This analysis shows that Freeman was not outside of the pocket when the defender started pushing the receiver out of bounds. Rule 8 Section 4 Article 7 states that the quarterback must LEAVE the pocket for the restrictions of illegal contact to be lifted. This clearly did not happen. The officials missed this call.

  2. Rule #8 Article 6 clearly contradicts your highlighted key point above.

    Exception: If an eligible receiver is forced out of bounds by a foul by a defender, including illegal contact, defensive holding,
    or defensive pass interference, he will become eligible to legally touch the pass (without prior touching by another eligible
    receiver or defender) as soon as he re-establishes himself inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than
    his hands.

  3. correction to my above post its not a contradiction to highlight key point its clarification to what would have happened if ball was in air while shove happened.

    keith great photo. much appreciated. its gonna help me win quite a few arguments. whats even better is pocket area is even bigger than in the picture. Its 2 ft wider than tackles in each direction.

  4. @C. Hellyer — very much correct, there. I thought it was odd that there was no exception for a defensive foul putting a player out of bounds. I thought they wrote that exception out.

    @Keith — The photo is some nice work, but it’s not going to hold up. When the pocket collapses like that, the only thing that the officials and players can truly rely upon is when the play turns into a run play. Once the quarterback has turned to the sideline and is no longer attempting to throw, the quarterback has essentially left the imaginary boundaries of the tackle box. Therefore, illegal contact (a pass play penalty) comes off the board when it is an established running play.

    Although Freeman is inside the yellow-shaded area, he is moving laterally, and clearly exiting the pocket. Therefore, there is no question that this is a running play.

    And remember, the yellow box is unofficial 😉

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