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Dolphins illegal bat puts Patriots on-deck



Week 8: Dolphins at Patriots (video)

week8The Dolphins notified the league that a yet-uncalled new rule probably should have been called in Week 6. In Week 7, the Patriots were penalized by that rule, which the league office made a point of emphasis to the officials. In Week 8, the Patriots benefited from a rarely called penalty against — the Dolphins.

The penalty was illegally batting a loose ball, and it turned a 22-yard loss into a 10-yard gain and an automatic first down.

On a fumble by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Dolphins defensive lineman Olivier Vernon batted the ball while trying to recover. Rather than giving the Patriots a big loss of yardage, it was a 10-yard penalty and an automatic first down. Because the ball went in a forward direction for the player batting the ball, it is a foul. Section 12-4-1:

It is an illegal bat if:

(a) a player of either team bats or punches a loose ball in the field of play toward his opponent’s goal line; or

(b) a player of either team bats or punches a loose ball (that has touched the ground) in any direction, if it is in either end zone; or

(c) an offensive player bats a backward pass in flight toward his opponent’s goal line.

Penalty: For illegal batting or punching the ball: Loss of 10 yards. For enforcement, treat as a foul during a backward pass or fumble (see 8-7-7). If the foul is by the defense, it is an automatic first down.

It is a judgement call if the ball is actually batted or if it is part of an attempt to secure the ball. When the ball is propelled backwards with the speed that it was in this case, it increases the chance this will be ruled an illegal bat.

To me, I sensed this was a clear-cut case of illegally batting the ball, rather than an earnest fumble recovery attempt, but we will save this for review this week.

Referee Walt Anderson was interviewed by a pool reporter following the game.

Pool report interview with referee Walt Anderson

Q: How could you be sure that the player was batting the ball forward and the ball didn’t hit the back of his hand while he was trying to gather it into his body? 

Anderson: The official on the field — what he ruled was that the player batted it forward, which is an intentional act. Players cannot bat the ball forward. With it being the defensive team they couldn’t bat it in that direction. The offensive team likewise could not have batted it forward from their side of the field. 

Q: Is that a reviewable play? 

Anderson: The illegal bat is not reviewable. Now on that play what would have potentially been reviewable was the initial ruling of fumble, whether or not the player was down by contact prior to the fumble. But the act of the illegal batting is not a reviewable play. 

Q: Is that because it’s a judgment call? 

Anderson: It’s not of the categories of plays that’s listed as reviewable.

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)