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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.

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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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13 thoughts on “Dolphins illegal bat puts Patriots on-deck

  1. Question: I see in the rules excerpt that there is no mention of the intention of the player, but Ref Anderson says “…what he ruled was that the player batted it forward, which is an intentional act.”

    That reads to me that it was ruled batting because it was believed to be an intentional act. So if it was not an intentional act, would it not be batting?

  2. Who in the world would look at the circumstances and decide to call the illegal batting?? The dolphins were down by three at the time, and the most beneficial outcome would have been for the dolphins to recover the loose football. There’s no way that the lineman’s number one priority in that case would be anything other than recovering the football. That’s the instinctive thing to do in that situation. How many times have we seen linemen attempt to grab footballs only to watch them squirt away from them? Common sense should have been the prevailing factor with this call. Game changer and not the only bad call in the game either. The patriots benefited from 2 very poor pass interference calls as well. Each call was at a pivotal time and resulted in a continued drive and points. By my count, the Patriots scored 17 points as a result of these three calls. Inexcusable.

  3. @ Bill Roberts

    There is a spectrum here. On one side is a player who, not looking at the ball or who is losing his balance, contacts the ball with his arm/hand, sending it towards his opponent’s end zone. Merely contacting the loose ball with the hand does not constitute batting the ball; by definition, there needs to be an effort to aim for the ball, so this is clearly not a batted ball. Same thing if a ball hits a player’s foot, we would not say the ball is kicked.

    On the other side is a player who takes a good 180° swing at the ball and propels it back 30 yards. This is clearly an illegally batted ball.

    On this play, the decision factors in three things that happened: (1) the Dolphins player’s action was with one arm, rather than both (yes, his other was breaking his fall), (2) the ball gets propelled a significant distance in the team’s advantage, (3) the ball went directly backwards, and not to the side. None of these really helps the case that the ball was not batted.

    I really think the distance that ball went cinched the call that it was an illegal bat. That ball really travelled much more than the impetus of a falling player, in my opinion.

    I hear the case for not calling the penalty, but I still believe the correct call was made.

  4. As I posted somewhere else in this blog, Ben’s point about the call being essentially a judgment call on the part of the officials is well taken, and actually illustrates exactly why the call never should have been made in the first place. If the call required the officials to make a split second decision without being able to fully evaluate all of the necessary information, INCLUDING THE MOVEMENT OF THE PLAYERS HANDS AND FINGERS, so as to determine if, in fact, the ball had or had not been “swatted” or “batted” by the player, then the call should NOT have been made, especially, on a critical 3rd down play which ended up affecting the score in the game. Under your interpretation of the rule, anytime a player, while attempting to recover a fumble, contacts a loose ball and happens to move the ball in the direction of his opponent’s endzone, the player should be penalized for “batting” the ball forward. In that case, at least 50% of plays involving loose balls in the field of play would be penalized, and the simple truth is that they are NOT. Besides, a common sense definition of the words “batting” or “swatting” encompass an affirmative act by a player of striking or, to use your term, propelling the ball toward his opponent’s endzone. What we have here is an unintentional circumstantial contact with the ball occasioned by Olivier Vernon’s diving body (part of his hand) as he tried to haul in Brady’s fumble.

  5. again, the game is too fast for the official. he made a judgement call because the ball travelled as far as it did. he should not be asked to measure intent, period. what is clearly wrong about this play is that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. lets say he did intend to advance the fumble towards his goal (there still is no guarantee his team recovers as the Pats did recover) the ruling should be dead ball at spot of “batting” with possession to offense and no change in down and distance. how the patriots benefit so much on a fumble is ridiculous…. and when you consider the interception that the Pats made earlier on the sideline when one of the defenders tipped the pass upfield to his teammate because he couldn’t stay in bounds and his teammate could, and basically playing volleyball to each other is allowed but diving for a loose ball on the ground and striking it with your hand to no one is a penalty???? something is wrong here??? btw offensive receivers wouldn’t be allowed to do what the Pats defenders did???

  6. @ chris s

    btw offensive receivers wouldn’t be allowed to do what the Pats defenders did???

    Yes, passes may be batted. The next section of the rules is “legal bat” which includes a pass. Incidentally, the offense may bat the pass to an ineligible receiver, who may legally catch and advance the ball.

  7. I don’t believe an offensive player is allowed to intentionally tip a pass forward to a teammate beyond the line of scrimmage. that would in essence be a forward lateral.

  8. An eligible receiver that “controls” the ball prior to completing the process of the catch may not bat the ball forward. That is a tricky one to call.

  9. which is what the patriot defender did,(controlled the ball upfield to a teammate) .. as I wrote , a offensive player couldn’t do what the defensive player on the Pats did!!!

  10. he didn’t, a patriot defender did. on the interception on the sideline in the 2nd half. one guy falling out of bounds knew he couldn’t keep his feet in so he directed it to his teammate who could stay in bounds, which was in the direction of the defenders goaline. ….so my point was in looking back at the game, the patriots basically played volleyball with a pass to gain an interception, but on a patriot fumble a falling down dolphin defender was called for a huge penalty in hitting the ball upfield towards his goaline in a supposed attempt for a teammate to recover, which btw was recovered by the Pats. it makes no sense at all, and the dolphins got screwed.

  11. So even though i am a dolphins fan, i must say we choked away a 24-0 lead. With that said, this call was bad IMO. You can see Vernon use his palm, plus his elbows plant down seem as if though he is trying to coral it. And this is me complaining about the rule: it should be reviewable. IMO all plays should be reviewable. And with that play plus 2 other questionable calls on the Miami D late, this was a poorly officiated game. Not fixed, but poorly officiated

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