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Steelers block FG, scoop ball, lateral, bobble, knock out of bounds. Packers ball?!

Week 16: Steelers at Packers (video)

pit-gb bat ballPost updated with pool report below.

The Steelers blocked a game-tying field goal.   During the loose ball play, the Steelers are flagged for an illegal bat.   Carl Cheffers’ crew enforces the penalty from the previous spot, giving the Packers a first and goal.   There then followed a lengthy conference.   Cheffers announced, “The ball was never possessed by Pittsburgh.   That is why the penalty enforcement is from the previous spot.   Automatic first down, Green Bay.”

Let’s unpack the sequence of the play:

  • Steelers block the field goal. Even though it is blocked, this play remains a “kick” by rule.
  • A penalty was thrown for defensive holding, as the back of the jersey of Mason Crosby, the Packers kicker, was grabbed. This flag was picked up.
  • The ball was scooped by Steelers safety Ryan Clark (#25). The officials determined that Clark did not have possession of the ball. A loose ball recovery follows the same process as a pass completion: control ball, two feet in bounds, and an element of time to complete a football move. (Recovery of a loose ball is not reviewable, remember.) This is the linchpin of the entire play right here.
  • Clark’s actions directed the ball to cornerback William Gay, who touched the loose ball.
  • Defensive end Ziggy Hood bats the ball from the 7-yard line. At this point, no Steelers player has been ruled to have possessed the ball, so the play is still considered a “kick” because its status has not changed.
  • Ball goes out of bounds at the 12-yard line.
  • Hood’s play on the ball was not an attempt to secure the ball, and was directed away from his team’s goal line; therefore, Hood was flagged for illegally batting the ball.

Let us first examine the play as called: that Clark had not possessed the ball. Without the penalty, and without securing the loose ball, the only way the Steelers get the ball is by the Packers not converting fourth down. Since the penalty precedes the turnover on downs, the Steelers do not get the ball with “clean hands.” Therefore, the only enforcement point is the previous spot, which is an automatic first down for the Packers, as the officials ruled on this play.

Now, assume that it is ruled that Clark possessed the ball. At that point, the Steelers have a clean-hands recovery (penalty will come later in the play), and any subsequent live-ball penalty against the Steelers is enforced from that point.

Despite the Packers having a blocked kick and not having made a first down, the Packers get the advantage of a first down. It is no different if the Steelers committed any other automatic-first-down foul prior to the ball being kicked: Packers get the ball back no matter what happens on the play.

Did Clark possess the ball? If the loose-ball recovery for Clark was reviewable, I don’t see conclusive evidence to overturn. (It is not reviewable, let us underscore that. Update: An end zone angle showed a pretty definitive recovery by Clark, in my opinion.) Since the shovel/lateral was towards the Steelers own end zone, that action is not penalized as an illegal bat. Former officiating supervisor Jim Daopoulos evaluates it this way:

I feel that as long as he had the ball in his hands and both feet on the ground, he was able to make a football move (pitching it backward), so, in my opinion, it was not a correct decision by the crew.

And, finally, the flag pickup for the defensive holding was correct, by Rule 12-1-5:

A defensive player may use his hands, arms, or body to push, pull, or ward off offensive players … (c) in a personal attempt to reach a loose ball that has touched the ground during a backward pass, fumble, or kick.

Pool reporter interview with Carl Cheffers

[Note: The pool report only gives the essence of the question, however Cheffers’ responses are transcribed.]

Q: [on the batting of the ball ruling following the Green Bay’s blocked field goal]

Cheffers: We had a blocked field goal, so that is a loose ball play and that remains a field goal, it remains a scrimmage kick, unless we rule that [the ball] has been possessed at some point during that play, which we did not rule on the field. We ruled that the ball continued to be a loose ball throughout the play. Batting is an intentional act. It’s when you strike the ball, and you cannot do that in the direction of your own goal line. So if you bat the ball forward, it is an illegal act. So we ruled that the player batted the ball forward, it was during the loose ball part of the scrimmage play and the only place we can enforce that foul is from the previous spot. So we went back to where the ball was snapped, we enforced the yardage, I believe it was half the distance [to the goal], and a foul on the defense is an automatic first down. So that’s basically how the play panned out.

Q: [on if there was a lot of discussion between the officials about whether or not there was possession during the play]

Cheffers: Yes, we did take quite a bit of time on that play, as I’m sure you saw, and the discussion revolved around whether or not there was possession in the field of play, and we ruled that there was no possession in the field of play, so that’s why we enforced it as a foul during a loose ball and went to the previous spot.

Q: [on if the Packers could have advanced the ball had they recovered the blocked field goal]

Cheffers: Yes, that is a good point. Any time the ball ends up back behind the line of scrimmage, and in this case it never crossed the line of scrimmage, but any time the ball is behind the line of scrimmage on a blocked field goal like that, the offensive team has every right to advance the ball. So there is an advantage to the defense to try and keep them from recovering the ball. So that is why there are rules about holding and all of that kind of stuff to try and keep the opponent from recovering the ball.

Mark Schultz contributed to this report. This post was updated shortly after publishing to include quote from Daopoulos.

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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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20 thoughts on “Steelers block FG, scoop ball, lateral, bobble, knock out of bounds. Packers ball?!

  1. The point is that play SHOULD be reviewable. If the entire end result of Green Bay getting the ball back was based on the Steelers NOT having possession (despite everyone in the world seeing they did) then it should be looked at.

    So in the end its a correct call ONLY because they missed the most important part of the play and no one is allowed to go back and see if they got that part right or not.

  2. You lose your credibility by your comment that you don’t see conclusive evidence of possession.

    By any reasonable standard Clark met all the requirements to establish possession. Only by stretching credulity can you make any argument otherwise.

  3. This was a really complicated call! My question is why Rule 14, Section 4, Article 8, Exception 3 did not apply in this case:

    Exception 3:
    If the receiving team commits a foul during a kick that crosses the line of scrimmage, the penalty for its infraction will be enforced as if it had been in possession of the ball at the time the foul occurred (a post-possession foul), provided that the receiving team does not lose possession of the ball at any time during the down.

    The penalty shall be enforced
    from whichever of the following spots is least beneficial to the receiving team:
    (a) The spot where possession is gained;
    (b) The spot where the ball becomes dead; or
    (c) The spot of the foul.

    Note: If the least beneficial spot is in the end zone, the spot of enforcement is the 20-yard line.

    This was a kick that had crossed the line of scrimmage, was it not? The Steelers were the “receiving team.” The part about losing possession cannot apply if the Steelers never had possession. Therefore, it seems the penalty should have been half the distance to the goal from the spot of the foul (the 7-yard line), giving the Steelers first and 10 from the 3.

    Is there another rule that supersedes this, or am I misunderstanding this one?

  4. IMHO they completely blew it…and since it CAN’T be reviewed there will either be much twisting in the wind to justify it or another apology from the league.

  5. Nathan: The ball never crossed the LOS, therefore your exception will not apply. LOS was 5, it was blocked at 5, and it was clear to me ball bounced at 5 then went backwards. Here the entire issue was did Clark possess the ball? Certainly looks like he possessed the ball. He had it and was able to pitch it back. If that isn’t possession I do not know what is. Thus, if the judgment was better on the field, the Steelers gained possession with clean hands and keep the ball after enforcement of the illegal bat. Because the crew blew this portion of the call, the enforcement (Steelers never gained possession) spot is previous spot half distance and per 8.7.7. illegal bat by defense is an AFD.

    Typical weekly horrible officiating. No focus on the play. The officiating this season is worst in history, to include the replacement era. The mistakes in the last 4 weeks alone exceeded mistakes the replacements made in 7 weeks. But facing no accountability, nothing will happen. If a replacement made a major mistake he was terminated (with a $2000 a week consolation prize for sitting home and not working)

  6. The key on the judgement call by the observing official is controlled possession. At real speed without a second look, did Clark CONTROL the ball. It is debatable, but Clark did not make it abundantly clear that he controlled the ball in a way to maintain possession. Therefore, it is a judgement call, and either call is supported by the rules.

    The end zone angle, which I did not get until after this post, does show the process of the recovery being completed.

    Now, if Dean Blandino says this is/is not possession, then that is his interpretation of the action, and not because a rule says it is that way. And it is the only interpretation that counts. (Well, in a technical sense, only the covering official’s opinion counts.)

  7. It still comes down to the NFL “rules” which say such things cannot be reviewed. That leaves it open to being horribly wrong and in this case giving the ball BACK to the team that should not have had it.

    Maybe someday the league will streamline their rules to and increase the use of replay for change of possession plays EVEN if the refs on the field make a “judgement” call that is wrong.

    The men on the field blew it. No twisting in the wind of the “rule” will change that because the initial decision was completely wrong…even in real time…to anyone who saw it. If he DIDN’T see it then they need to go to replay to fix it.

  8. I don’t understand why this is not a turn over on downs. If any other penalty (that normally results in a first down, say a personal foul) had occurred without either team gaining possession (the ball goes out of bounds) during the time the ball is loose, would Green Bay still get the ball and an automatic first down? Or would Pittsburgh be awarded the ball after a turnover on downs by Green Bay and the penalty assessed from there?

    I don’t see how Green Bay can be awarded possession if no team possessed the ball during the time the ball was loose and it was 4th down. Normally this is a turnover on downs even if a penalty occurred during the time the ball was loose, not possession awarded to Green Bay and an automatic first down.

    I hope my argument makes sense.

    Side note, recovery of loose ball is reviewed as a secondary part of reviewing turnovers, correct?. In this case I understand the ruling on the field is not a turnover but determining who recovered the loose ball during a ruled turnover is part of that review process, is it not?

  9. Did anyone else notice Ryan Clark had his knee down and was clearly being touched by a packers player before the pitch even occurred!? By rule, wouldn’t that make the ball a dead ball and steelers possession?? Just wondering.

  10. Ray the officials either didn’t see it or didn’t think it met the “standard” of “control”…or whatever.

    The things was screwed up from the start and the “rule” making it non-reviewable just made it worse. IMHO.

  11. Yeah, they had no clue what was going on and decided to make it non reviewable because they really didn’t know. I feel they overlooked that whole fact because they were too worried about the forward batting of the ball… But thank you Glenn for your input, we shall see what happens to the referees since the commish likes to just fine players for anything that is controversial. Doubt anything but still.

  12. Recovery of a loose ball is only reviewable in the end zone or at the sideline. This is not specific to loose-ball recovery; it is just that the sideline/goal line/end line is reviewable in a general sense.

  13. Doesn’t the accuracy of the attempted pitch enter into consideration? It looked to me as if the attempt to pitch the ball back was very bad precisely because he did not have full control of it. He attempt to pitch it a very short distance and wasn’t even close to hitting his target.

  14. Kevin, although the ball was loose, Green Bay retains team possession until the opponent gains it.
    There are two types of possession, team and player.

  15. No. He had both hands on it and was falling to the ground. He had possession.

    The “official” decided that he did not and or missed the obvious play directly in front of him.

    They blew the initial call and therefore rendered it un-reviewable.

  16. Sorry…forgot to post the link. Not the best view on this one:

    Oddly EVERY video from the NFL goes right up to Clark going towards the ball and then cuts to the batting of the ball…despite the network showing the angle from the end zone where he had the ball, took two steps and lateraled.

    Still shot if from that angle that the NFL no longer has apparently! LOL!

  17. There is a good rules question here.

    While the recovery of a loose ball is not reviewable, whether Clark was down by contact IS reviewable. Could Tomlin have challenged for DBC despite the fact Clark was ruled to never have control of the ball?

  18. My reading of all of this is no Because the official on the field never ruled he HAD possession they would not review to see if he was down.

    Moot point as the league has admitted it was a bad call.

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