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Leavy hits Steelers with 3 questionable calls



A series of calls in the second quarter by Bill Leavy’s crew were questionable at best.

Non-restrictive pass interference. A deep incomplete pass was flagged for defensive pass interference, despite a lack of contact that restricted the wide receiver. The penalty gave the Giants 41 extra yards on their touchdown drive. Because the receiver appeared to move as if he was contacted, the covering official probably used this as evidence of pass interference. However, officials are instructed that fouls are called if you see a foul and not the perception of a foul. This is especially true when a 41-yard penalty is to be called.

Nonexistent blow to the head (video). Later on the same drive, a 3rd-and-goal pass fell incomplete. Giants receiver Victor Cruz (who was not the intended receiver) was hit violently by Steelers defensive back Ryan Clark. Clark’s hit caused Cruz’s head to be jarred, and a personal foul for a blow to the head was called by back judge Keith Ferguson. Cruz left the game with bruised ribs on the play, indicating that the hit was much lower to the head, as seen on the video. While it is questionable to hit a player that hard in the end zone, where there is no chance for a receiver to advance the ball,  it was still a legal hit. Again, the call was based on a  perception of a blow to the head by how Cruz went down, rather than based on observing an actual blow to the head. Instead of facing a fourth and goal, the Giants got an automatic first down, leading to a touchdown.

Fumble or tuck rule? (video). Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was ruled, on the ensuing drive, to have fumbled the ball that was then returned for a Giants touchdown. Instantly, this was thought by many to be a tuck rule: that a forward motion constitutes a pass until the quarterback tucks the ball back to his body. Defensive end Osi Umenyiora touched the ball before Roethlisberger threw it, but throughout the throwing motion, Roethlisberger kept a grip on the ball. Leavy apparently ruled that, because the throw was errant and the touch that caused it was prior to the throwing motion, that Roethlisberger was not in control of the ball during the throwing motion. Leavy overanalyzed the issue of control to an unreasonable standard, much like a fumble ruling in last year’s divisional playoffs that went against the Giants.

I usually pull back from identifying “bad calls,” given the fact that these games are officiated by long-time professionals with lightning-fast judgement and decisiveness. However, the fumble ruling can be nothing else but a bad call.

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)