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Missed illegal formation affects playoff fates

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Week 17: Chiefs at Chargers (video)

Update: NFL statement issued Monday morning appears at the bottom of this post.

The Chiefs missed a three-pointer at the end of regulation.

The officials missed the seven players on one side of the defensive formation.

Those misses were felt in Pittsburgh, as it had ramifications on their playoff chances. The Steelers needed four specific outcomes to happen on Sunday, and a Chargers loss to the Chiefs was the lone missing piece of the playoff puzzle.

One of the new rules in the offseason prohibited the defense to line up more than six players on either side of the snapper on a kick. It was specifically requested by players because of it presented potential for season-ending injury by overloading one side of the line with little advantage to the defense. Rule 9-1-3:

(b) When Team A presents a field-goal or Try Kick formation:
(1)   No more than six Team B players may be on the line of scrimmage on either side of the snapper at the snap …
Note: These restrictions do not apply if a team does not present a standard punt, field goal, or Try Kick formation (an equal number of players on the line of scrimmage on either side of the snapper in a tight formation), or if, after the offensive team has assumed a set position, there is a shift, or a player goes in motion.

The Chiefs would have had a second chance at the field goal with the assessment of the five-yard penalty.

Umpire Ruben Fowler and side judge Keith Parham had responsibility for the legality of the formation.

Hat tip to Pete Damilatis for pointing us to this and Sam Walker for the annotated graphic. CBS still image.

NFL statement

With 0:08 remaining in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers, Kansas City faced a fourth-and-12 from the San Diego 23. The Chiefs attempted a 41-yard field that was no good.

On the play, San Diego lined up with seven men on one side of the snapper. This should have been penalized as an illegal formation by the defense.

Rule 9, Section 1, Article 3 (b) (1) of the NFL Rule Book (page 51) states that “No more than six Team B players may be on the line of scrimmage on either side of the snapper at the snap.” The rule was adopted this year as a player safety measure.

The penalty for illegal formation by the defense is a loss of five yards. This rule is not subject to instant replay review. Had the penalty been assessed, it would have resulted in a fourth-and-seven from the San Diego 18 with 0:04 remaining, enabling the Chiefs to attempt a 36-yard field goal.

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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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10 thoughts on “Missed illegal formation affects playoff fates

  1. In your graphic player #5 is NOT on the line of scrimmage and therefore isn’t involved in the illegal formation. But there are still 7 players, so it should’ve been flagged.

  2. A separate question about a different play in the Chiefs game.

    The Chargers faked a punt and the player appeared to have his forward progress stopped short of the line to gain, the pile was pushed forward and once he reached the line to gain the ball was stripped from the player by a Chiefs player. The play was ruled dead due to forward progress being stopped.

    When do officials determine forward progress is stopped? It seems arbitrary because often players will be stopped but then other players will push the pile forward to score touchdowns or gain first downs. It seems like defenses are at a disadvantage because they have to hold the line until the officials determine forward progress to be stopped and the amount of time it takes for officials to make that decision often seems arbitrary.

  3. Forward progress is a judgement call that the runner has finally been overpowered and has not shown an ability to advance the ball further. Sometimes it is an after-the-fact ruling to avoid a situation where there’s quick whistle just as the runner somehow breaks free.

    The defense is not at a disadvantage, rather forward progress removes an unfair defensive advantage. In the case of driving a pile for the first down, the defense is going to take every opportunity to strip the ball from the ball carrier, and after the runner has been shut down, the defense shouldn’t get the chance at a cheap fumble.

    If the pile is being pushed forward, then it is a live ball, and if the defense gets a fumble recovery at that time, then it’s a fair recovery situation.

  4. whay about th eclock issue play in the dallas – philly just before the last score for dallas in which the play clock started at 25 sec not 40.

  5. The silence is deafening, Rodolfo, on that clock error. Major mistake. As for the forward progress call, Kevin, that is a judgment call. On the play in question, the judgment was poor because even the casual observer could determine the runner was still moving forward when the ball was stripped. Oh well, the Steelers sit at home and probably wish the strike last year ended the way it was intended – with a purging of the rolls after the season ended and the hiring of officials who actually gave a damn about learning and applying the rules correctly, under the threat of termination. Ahhhh, accountability. ……… Until this occurs (and it won’t) we will continue to see the major f- ups that have become a weekly occurrence this season.

  6. Ben…would you agree that with San Diego’s fake punt against the Steelers, that IF forward progress was legitimately stopped, that it was PRIOR to the runner reaching the line of gain (30 yd. line), and that once the pile moved forward again, it did not stop moving forward prior to the ball being stripped? Also, would you not agree that the NFL, while ceding that the play “in hindsight” should have been reviewed, that they never explained WHY it wasn’t reviewed? By the way, I disagree with Dean Blandino’s assessment that the runner had reached the first down marker before progress was initially stopped. As for the field goal, is it not the Side Judge’s sole assignment, pre-snap, to count the overload? The whole sequence of events strains credibility.

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