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Week 2 remainders: fumbles become incomplete passes




In the third quarter of Week 2, Jets quarterback Geno Smith was sacked while trying to throw a pass. The ball landed behind him, so the officials ruled it a backward pass with the Packers recovering the loose ball. Also, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith was sacked, fumbled the ball forward, and the Broncos recovered on a fourth-quarter play. Both were put under a replay review, and both were reversed.

When a quarterback’s arm is going forward in a passing motion, it counts as a forward pass if a defender hits his arm to make it go backward. Rule 8-1-1a states:

If, after intentional forward movement of his hand, contact by an opponent materially affects the passer, causing the ball to go backward, it is a forward pass, regardless of where the ball strikes the ground, a player, an official, or anything else.

In Geno Smith’s case, the only reason the ball went backward was due to the defensive contact. Alex Smith was moving his arm slightly, but in an obvious forward passing motion when viewed on replay. Because the actions of the quarterbacks made the ball a forward pass, both plays were ruled incomplete passes in replay. With the repeal of the Tuck Rule in 2013, the end of a forward motion ends the intention to pass, and not tucking the ball into the body.

The next issue for these plays involves intentional grounding, as it was argued that these passes were nowhere near an intended receiver. However, the rules allow the word intentional to have meaning — the actions of both Smiths were intended to be passes to an eligible receiver, and the intentional grounding rules give similar deference to the quarterback as Rule 8-1-1a does to make it incomplete. In this case, if there is no eligible target in the path of the intended pass, the referee can still call intentional grounding. Such a call is rarely made, though, because it is difficult to actually determine what would have happened without the defensive contact.

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)