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Onside kick to start overtime causes enforcement nightmare



sea onside OT

Week 1: Seahawks at Rams (video)

A surprise onside kick didn’t catch the Rams napping, but it wound up catching the officiating crew off guard.

The Steven Hauschka kick was popped straight up into the air, and Rams receiver Bradley Marquez signaled for a fair catch and successfully and cleanly caught the ball. Although it is not common on a kickoff, any receiving team player may signal a fair catch.

Referee Jeff Triplette announced that they were ruling that the ball skipped off the turf right off the tee, and that a fair catch could not be called. However, he then announced that this made the fair catch signal invalid, and therefore a foul, which would be assessed on a re-kick. Triplette’s crew reassembled, and they determined the ball never touched the ground, which resulted in picking up the invalid fair-catch signal flag.

But Triplette and his crew could not seem to get this one right:

  1. The invalid-fair-catch-signal foul is written in a manner to capture vague signals that would deceive the defense. In this case, it was a clear declaration to call for a fair catch, even though the receiver really cannot tell if the ball skipped off the field surface.
  2. An invalid fair-catch signal would be enforced as a five-yard penalty from the spot of the signal, and not assessed on a re-kick as Triplette had stated.
  3. By eventually declaring the fair catch signal valid, it then should have resulted in the Seahawks being assessed for a late hit after the catch. This should have given the Rams 15 yards from the spot of the foul. The Rams could have put the ball in play after the penalty with a first-down snap or by a fair-catch kick.

Replay cannot be used to check if the ball touched the ground.

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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