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LJ Baynes keeps crew on no-TD call

Ravens at Broncos (video via Deadspin)

4th qtr | 12:35. On a night when Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning throws seven touchdowns — first time anyone has done that since Joe Kapp in 1969 — his teammate, Danny Trevathan, upstaged everything with an incredible lapse in judgement .

trevathan_coverageTrevathan’s return of an interception seemed to be a certain touchdown for the Broncos linebacker, but the officials were acutely aware that Trevathan had dropped the ball prior to entering the end zone. Because it was an interception return, the crew was in reverse mechanics — that is, because of the reverse in direction, the head linesman and line judge have responsibility for the goal line, and the side judge and field judge rule forward progress.

Line judge Rusty Baynes, a four-year NFL veteran, parked himself   right at the goal line, but he did not signal touchdown. (In this image, Baynes is partially behind the goalpost.) He continued to monitor the loose ball as it remained in the end zone. A scramble for the ball forced it out of bounds in the end zone, which is ruled a touchback and returning the ball to the Ravens. (If no player attempted to recover the ball, it would then be declared dead in the end zone, which, by rule would be Broncos ball on the 1-yard line. It would not be a touchback in that situation, nor would the Ravens get the ball, as the touchback rules require possession or for the ball to go out of bounds.) [Updated 9/6]

Any one of the officials could have killed the play, but it ran to its conclusion without an inadvertent whistle, something that easily could have happened when there is contact following a presumed touchdown.

Baynes stayed with the call, and the replays confirmed that a review wasn’t even required. In a humdrum runaway game which was delayed 45 minutes at the outset, it is easy to get trapped into a lull, but the crew were observant of their situation, particularly the active stance that Baynes had in his coverage.

Oddly, this same situation happened to the Broncos last year, but the touchdown stood.

Walt Coleman was the referee.

Image: NFL/NBC Sports

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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)

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6 thoughts on “LJ Baynes keeps crew on no-TD call

  1. Should the play involving Danny Trevathan where he fumbled the ball into the endzone be ruled as an illegal forward pass instead?

    According to Rule 8, Section 1:
    Note: A ball that is intentionally fumbled and goes forward is a forward pass. A ball that is intentionally muffed, and goes forward or backward, is a batted ball (12-1-8). The direction taken by a fumbled or muffed ball does not affect the application of the rules specific to such acts, unless it is ruled that they are intentional.

    In this case the ball was intentionally fumbled, and it also went forward (it was dropped by Trevathan before he was in the end zone, but the ball landed in the end zone). So, is this an illegal forward pass?

  2. Not to bat at a hypothetical, but I want to run an alternate interpretation of the “no player attempted to recover the ball” scenario. In that case, the dead-ball rule that applies says:
    “7.2.1.(i): When a loose ball comes to rest anywhere in the field of play, and no player attempts to recover it … the ball is dead. Any legal (or illegal) kick is awarded to the receivers, and any other ball is awarded to the team last in possession. When awarded to a team behind a goal line, the ball is placed on the one-yard line.”

    Here there is a minor textual conflict: the field of play as defined does not contain the end zones, but then the same section defines what happens when the paragraph applies in an end zone. No other section specifically declares a ball at rest in an end zone as dead, so either a ball at rest in the end zone isn’t dead, or this paragraph applies.

    In the case that it does apply, the ball would have been awarded to the Broncos, behind a goal line, and thus trigger the provision that it would have been the Broncos ball, 1st and goal at the 1-yard line.

    Does that interpretation hold up to your scrutiny?

  3. @scott, You’d have to hold that up to the bar of intentionality. It is quite plausible to see that the player probably didn’t intend to loose possession of the ball before the ball was dead (ostensibly by crossing the goal line and scoring a touchdown). Instead, the ball slipped his grasp too early. I don’t see the elements of an intentional fumble there.

  4. @Marcus G, Earlier I quoted the Rule 8, Section 1, Article 1 note pertaining to an intentional fumble forward. However, the entirety of Rule 8, Section 1, Article 1 is as follows:

    Article 1 Definition. It is a forward pass if:
    (a) the ball initially moves forward (to a point nearer the opponent’s goal line) after leaving the passer’s hand(s); or
    (b) the ball first strikes the ground, a player, an official, or anything else at a point that is nearer the opponent’s goal line than the point at which the ball leaves the passer’s hand(s).
    Note: A ball that is intentionally fumbled and goes forward is a forward pass. A ball that is intentionally muffed, and goes forward or backward, is a batted ball (12-1-8). The direction taken by a fumbled or muffed ball does not affect the application of the rules specific to such acts, unless it is ruled that they are intentional.

    By Definition (a), after leaving Trevathan’s hands, the ball moved forward. Is it then a forward pass? Does the act of it being intentional even need to come into play?

    Concerning whether or not it was intentional: Can a player intentionally drop the ball, but not intentionally fumble the ball?

  5. @scott, It is clear that in this case the ball was fumbled. The question is whether that fumble was intentional. If it was intentional, then the fumble is translated to being a forward pass instead of a fumble (that’s the purpose of the note there.)

    Here, there is a definite difference between dropping the ball after crossing the goal line and dropping it before the goal line. When determining intentionality, there is a presumption that an action wasn’t intentional. Thus, it would need to be clear to the official that he had intended to fumble the ball. In this case, it can be reasonably inferred that the player was dropping the ball believing the ball to be dead (for which he was mistaken). Fumbling requires losing possession of a live ball. If the player believes the ball was dead, that loss of possession is a fumble (by definition), but was not intentional because the player had no intent to fumble the ball (he thought the ball was already dead, and no longer fumble-able).

    This all goes very much into “intent”, which can be hard to assess on the field. Thus, unless it is clear, there is a presumption against intentionality.

    The reasoning behind 8-1-1 is to prevent a player who “fakes” a fumble in order to tumble the ball forward to a teammate, and this is made clear in the note for 3-2-4 which defines a fumble:
    “Note: If a player pretends to fumble and causes the ball to go forward, it is a forward pass and may be illegal.”

    Further, in 3-23-1, the definition of a pass, there is a requirement that the ball be “shoved” or “pushed” for it to be considered a pass. There is an additional note under 3-23-2: “Note 4: A fumble or muff going forward is disregarded as to its direction, unless the act is ruled intentional. In such cases, the fumble is a forward pass (8-1-1) and the muff is a bat (12-4-1).” Here intentionality is again highlighted.

  6. Made a quick correction … a touchback cannot be ruled on a loose ball that is declared dead. Only a possessed dead ball or out-of-bound ball can be ruled a touchback. My emphasis added to Rule 11-6-2:

    When a team provides the impetus that sends a loose ball behind its opponent’s goal line, it is a touchback: (a) if the ball is dead in the opponent’s possession in its end zone; or (b) if the ball is out of bounds behind the goal line …

    We actually covered this before, but it was a replay review that became involved in the play.

    As for the forward fumble/illegal forward pass theory: that cannot be ruled a forward pass, because he dropped the ball behind him. The only reason why the ball went forward was because of his running, and not because of a throwing or heaving motion. The fumbling motion was behind and immediately down, subsequently rolling forward because of the loss of possession while running.

    If you ever saw the video of Jim Marshall running the wrong way on a fumble recovery, when he thinks he has scored a touchdown, he tosses the ball forward. He was in the wrong end zone, so it was a fumble out of bounds. It is not an illegal pass, because the officials can clearly see what the intent was, and Marshall was not trying to intentionally fumble/pass the ball.

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