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It’s no good; it’s a runback; it’s a safety; no, it’s not: Unraveling Austin’s missed field-goal return

Week 9: Rams at 49ers (video at :57)

[Post updated to include pool reporter interview with referee Jerome Boger]

The 49ers missed a field goal attempt, and Rams receiver Tavon Austin caught the ball in bounds. He attempted to return the kick, and the entire ball exited the end zone. Austin was tackled in the end zone, but the officials ruled this down at the 1-yard line.

Austin caught a huge break on this play. Once the ball leaves the end zone, if Austin subsequently retreats into the end zone, then the Rams provided the impetus to put the ball into the end zone. (Compare to the Cowboys impetus ruling from Monday night.) The ruling on the field was that the ball was dead at the 1 due to Austin’s forward progress. This is reviewable even though forward progress is generally not, since the determination of a dead ball at the goal line is reviewable.

Under review, if any part of the ball breaks the plane of the goal, it would be a safety. However, there is no definitive angle, because the cameras were set for a field-goal attempt, and not a potential goal-line play. Therefore, the ruling stands as called, with the Austin’s forward progress puts the ball at the 1.

Let us run down a series of what-ifs (which we will assume time remains on the clock for the sake of illustration):

  • If Austin lunges back for the field of play after being wrapped up at the 1-yard line, his forward progress spot could be reset in the end zone and ruled a safety
  • If Austin was tackled in the end zone before the ball fully left the end zone, then it is a touchback.
  • If Austin kneels without leaving the end zone, then it is a touchback.
  • If Austin catches the ball with his foot on the end line or if he catches the ball before he establishes two feet in bounds, it is a missed field goal, and returns to the spot of the kick.
  • If Austin is out of bounds during the kick and reestablishes himself in the end zone, the play continues. Illegal touching does not apply to the receiving team.

Post-game interview

A pool reporter asked referee Jerome Boger about this play, a challenge by Rams coach Jeff Fisher, and the fumble by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick at the end of the game.

Q: What was the ruling on the field?

Boger:  The ruling on the field was that the ball carrier brought the ball out onto the field of play, and there was contact by the defender that forced him back into the end zone.

Q: So he was on the field of play. He was forced back in. Did the replay show you anything conclusive?

Boger: Not really because there was no shot down the actual goal line. It was off the goal line. So maybe if we had a shot right down the goal line we could have looked at that aspect, but there was no shot available.

Q: So basically the call was not confirmed, it just wasn’t conclusive enough.

Boger:  It stands.

Q: Now, can we ask about the Fisher challenge call?

Boger: Well, on the Fisher challenge where it wasn’t allowed because he didn’t understand that the rule on the field was forward progress. He thought we were ruling on down by contact and a clear recovery that could be challenged. But actually he couldn’t hear the announcement that the ruling on the field was that forward progress had been stopped prior after the ball coming loose. That is not challengeable.

Q: Is it common courtesy to clarify if there is a miscommunication or he couldn’t hear?

Boger: Yes it is. That’s right, as to what he thinks he is challenging. Because he is on the competition committee, he knew as soon as I said that the ruling was forward progress. He said that is not what he understood. He thought it was down by contact.

Q: [About the replay review] on the last play of the game?

Boger:  On the last play it went into a pile, and there was nothing we could see that could change the ruling on the field.

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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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8 thoughts on “It’s no good; it’s a runback; it’s a safety; no, it’s not: Unraveling Austin’s missed field-goal return

  1. The refereeing was ridiculously bad the whole game but it did go born ways. The Niners likely got the worst of it but the “forward progress stopped” nonsense on the fumble and the mystery whistle on Austin’s punt return (which didn’t impact the game but was rubbish) were absolutely tragic calls that you wouldn’t expect at a high school contest.

  2. The worst part of this play was the laziness of the covering officials. They are under the goal posts to rule on the kick good/no good, but it was short and Austin fielded the ball in play. They did NOT move upfield with Austin to BE IN PROPER POSITION to see what happened, so they guessed, and they guessed wrong. Then the replay official covered their laziness and ineptitude by upholding their call. Inexcusable. And Pereira, the Fox so called expert, wouldn’t point this out.

  3. The officials should not move up, they must fall back far enough in case of a change of direction (player cuts back or a fumble). I believe the line judge and the head linesman come down to spot forward progress, although I will admit, the missed field-goal mechanics do not come up too often. Essentially, they will treat it the same as a punt, though.

  4. I would like a clarification on the Crabtree play before the Kaepernick “fumble” (that nobody could see). Several reporters were told they were not allowed to iniqure about this play. Why is that?

    The reply showed Crabtree with possession of the ball over the goal line. Then he then falls back out of the end zone and rolls out of bounds without being touched. He also rolled out of bounds at which point the referee signaled to keep the game clock running.

    Therefore, either;

    1. Crabtree caught it and it’s a TD.
    2. Or, he didn’t catch it and it’s an incomplete pass (which stops the clock).
    3. (Not that this make sense), but if they somehow rule it a catch without being a touchdown, the game clock should stop since he rolled out of bounds without being touched.

    However, they ruled it a catch, spotted the ball on the ONE YARD LINE, AND did not reset the game clock??!! HOW?

    They also started the game clock upon setting the ball for play. Why would they do this after reviewing the play?

  5. Even worse than the Austin “was it a touchback or a safety” play was his return of a punt for what should have been a TD. For some reason the officials blew the whistle and stopped play though Austin never stepped out of bounds. Why the whistle? Then they call phantom offsetting penalties to force a rekick on the play, to try to cover up their error. It’s a joke.

    Earlier, a Ram defender picks up a fumble and returns it for a score and again the officials rule it a dead ball and take another TD away from the Rams. Jeff Fisher looked disgusted, as he should have.

    And of course the Austin play on the missed field goal was a safety so that’s two points (at least) the officials cost the 49ers.

    14 points taken away from the Rams, 2 points from the 49ers. The poor NFL officiating you see every week is impacting the outcome of games, and that should not be allowed.

  6. Gotta say this is one disjointed officiating crew. The left hand doesn’t seem to know what the right hand is doing, so to speak. Oh, and how the devil does a whistle get blown when you could SEE grass, and LOTS of it, between the sideline and Tavon Austin’s shoe. Eye appointments this week please!

    Jerome Boger doesn’t do himself any favors either. He’s just so hesitant and halting in his verbalization explaining the call he gives you the impression (probably not really true, however) that he is not quite sure of the ruling, or sure if the calling official really had it right.

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