Week 13: Bengals at Buccaneers (video at 2:25 | replay video)
It’s as easy as 1 to … 12.
The Buccaneers with 32 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter completed a 21-yard pass to put them in field-goal range. As the Buccaneers took to the line for the play, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis threw a challenge flag, as there were 12 players on the previous play for the Buccaneers. The too-many-men foul is reviewable in replay.
Illegal challenge flag. The first issue to address is that Lewis cannot challenge a play after the two-minute warning. The penalty is a loss of a timeout, as it is treated the same as a challenge that was not successful (with the exception that the coach does not lose one of his two challenges). If the Bengals did not have a timeout to give, it would be a 15-yard foul assessed between downs. This action once froze out the replay official, but that provision was removed from the rulebook.
Replay was not compelled to review. The replay official determined, independent of the Bengals challenge flag, that there were 12 Buccaneers players in the play. Just because Lewis threw the challenge flag, the replay official is not bound to initiate a replay review. According to vice president of officiating Dean Blandio, the replay official was in the process of shutting down the next snap in order for a review to take place. The Bengals did not get a “free” challenge; in fact, the Bengals could have just taken a timeout. According to the sequence of events laid out by Blandino, the Bengals would have gotten that called timeout back in that situation.
12 in formation. The foul, had it been called on the field, would have been 12 men in formation, and the play would have been shut down before the snap. Whenever the offense places 12 men in formation for three seconds (or, on defense when “the snap is imminent”), the foul kills the snap. However, the replay cannot assess the 12-in-formation foul, only 12 at the snap. Conversely, replay cannot reverse an erroneous 12-in-formation or 12-in-the-huddle foul.
No 10-second runoff. The previous play was an incomplete pass, so there was no running clock at the start of this play. There are no 10-second runoffs when there is a stopped clock. However, what happens if there was a running clock? If the 12-men foul is called in real time, it kills the snap, and we run 10; if it is called in replay, it is a live-ball foul, and we don’t run 10.
If the Bengals were out of timeouts. If the Bengals were out of timeouts and the illegal challenge was assessed as a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, both the 12-men and the unsportsmanlike would be assessed. In this situation, the 5-yard foul is assessed as a live-ball foul, repeating second down with 15 yards to go. Then, the unsportsmanlike conduct foul is assessed between downs, which would have been enough for a first down. Between-downs fouls do not offset other fouls, but the 12-men foul could offset any other hypothetical live- or dead-ball foul called during the play.
Counting players. Not sure why the breakdown occurred, as the referee, umpire, head linesman, and line judge are responsible for counting offensive players. These are all veteran officials — Bill Leavy, Undrey Wash, Wayne Mackie, and Mark Perlman — and it is surprising that all four did not call the foul on the field. It also does not help in the homestretch for officials looking for playoff assignments.