We still have a few leftovers on our Super Bowl buffet, so we will warm up some more analysis before we put the rest in the freezer for a long offseason.
Before we begin, we will be discussing the proposed rule changes and tracking incoming/outgoing officials during the offseason. We will also be re-posting some of our general-discussion items you may have missed during the regular season. The best way to keep up with things (other than checking the site every day, which I’m not discouraging) is to subscribe to our e-mail updates and like our page on Facebook.
Let me also thank my fantastic staff of writers for their contributions this season: Mark Schultz, Marcus Griep, and Josh Lewis. Each year surprises me as to what we accomplish. I can’t wait to see what next season brings.
And, now that the NFL has switched back to the red-blue shield logo on its website, let’s take one last look at the golden Super Bowl.
Talib’s facemask penalty
11:52 | 2nd qtr. Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib hogtied and tackled Panthers receiver Corey Brown inside the Broncos 2-yard line. This immediately drew three flags from the covering officials, and a collective “oh” from even the non-fans at your Super Bowl gathering. It was a pretty blatant foul, and resulted in a paltry 1-yard half-the-distance mark-off.
Talib obviously knew what he was doing, as he used an illegal act to prevent the touchdown, with the 1-yard penalty being of trivial consequence to saving six points. Some people thought this should be an ejectable offense. Despite Talib’s deliberate actions, as he admitted to reporters after the game, a facemask penalty must be exceptionally violent to be considered “flagrant,” the term used by the rulebook to describe a roughness foul that rises to the level of an ejection. While the very definition of flagrant indicates a deliberate action, this was still a tackle of the ball carrier, and not an extracurricular offense. That’s not to say that it is impossible for a player to be ejected for a live-ball tackle, but there is an extraordinarily high bar for ejecting a player to begin with.
That said, Talib’s actions are, on its own, subject to a fine. Add into the mix Talib’s confession and his prior record of discipline for on-field offenses, and it looks as if Talib could be suspended for at least one game in the 2016 regular season. It is a very unusual algorithm for discipline — the foul is not worthy of being tossed from the remainder of a game, but under serious consideration for being benched for multiple games without pay. But, officials cannot apply the contexts that the league executives rely upon for disciplinary action, nor should they.
Ealy mixes it up
13:55 | 2nd qtr. On a scramble by Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, linebacker Von Miller tackled Newton at the sideline. The Panthers bench took umbrage over the hit, feeling that Newton was out of bounds, but this was not the case. Even if Newton had touched the sideline, he was presenting himself as an advancing runner, and can expect to be hit without penalty, absent some other roughness call.
Defensive end Kony Ealy defended his quarterback and gave Miller a shove. Referee Clete Blakeman zipped in and is seen here having stern words for Ealy. Side judge Scott Edwards (without hat, behind Blakeman) then came in to do some follow-up preventative officiating and probably put Ealy “on notice” that future infractions would be penalized.
Alternate official Jerry Bergman (in black warm-up jacket with headset) was also descending on the scene to provide support for the crew. The five alternates assigned to the Super Bowl assist on sideline management, among other things. Seeing a potential flare-up, Bergman was there, but stood back when he saw the crew handling the situation themselves.
Head linesman Wayne Mackie is maintaining the ball spot, so he cannot be involved in the post-play activities.
This was a good job by the crew and Bergman to have acute awareness of the situation, and handled it through preventative officiating. The reaction by Ealy was instantaneous, was confined to the bench area, and did not include anything that was really “roughness,” so a no-flag situation with a warning is certainly appropriate here.
Talib’s taunting foul
5:10 | 1st qtr. Contrasting to Ealy’s sideline stir goes back to Talib, prior to the facemask penalty. After the Broncos stopped the Panthers on a third-down sack, Talib was flagged for taunting, giving the Panthers an automatic first down.
In Talib’s case, he crossed a bright line in the rulebook which specifically enumerates his helmet being removed. That’s not to say that every time a player removes his helmet after a play is a foul, but doing so in a confrontational or celebratory way definitely is. Both he and Corey Brown were in each other’s grille after the play, but Talib removed his helmet to get in Brown’s face, drawing the immediate flag.
(Too) tight punt coverage
9:29 | 2nd qtr. | video. Jordan Norwood turned in a Super Bowl record longest 61-yard punt return (although in 50 Super Bowls, we still have not seen a punt returned for a touchdown). At the outset of the return, it appeared that Panthers safety Colin Jones interfered with Norwood, but no flag was thrown. The lack of a flag is a moot point, because it is assessed 15 yards from the spot of the foul (not from the end of the run). Because Norwood’s return exceeded the penalty yardage, it would have been declined.
Jones did arrive early, so he certainly should have been penalized for interference, even though it would be declined. Kick-catch interference is a foul when the contact occurs “before or simultaneous to the receiver touching the ball.” Back judge Keith Ferguson was screened from the point of contact by Norwood, so any call from him would be a supposition of contact. Because Jones only brushed Norwood, without a physical disruption of the catch, the back judge has to make a gut call on contact/no contact. Had the catch been muffed or if Norwood adjusted his stance demonstrably, the case would be a little clearer for a flag, and there is no doubt there would have been one in such a case.
Because Jones approaches from the side, the kick-catch interference foul is essentially triggered on contact only. Despite widespread belief, there is no “halo rule” in the NFL for any punt catch, whether a fair catch or not. The defender must not impede the path of the receiver attempting to make the catch, and this side approach by Jones on a forward-moving Norwood does not impede the path.
This is also the likely reason that Beyoncé performed “Formation” at halftime and not “Halo.” One is a football term, the other is not.
Was Talib offside?
10:54 | 3rd qtr. Aqib Talib makes another appearance on a disputed call. Panthers kicker Graham Gano missed a 44-yard field goal that bounced off the right upright. When CBS returned from commercial, their theoretical top broadcast team floated the possibility that Talib was offside on the kick attempt, an infraction that he was flagged for on an extra-point attempt. But the broadcast abdicated any responsibility to critically review the charge, and essentially lit the fuse and ran, allowing social media to sort it out. Further frustrating the situation is that a former referee was in the broadcast booth, but they apparently muted his microphone.
The photos below show that Talib (#21 and nearest to the camera) did jump early in anticipation of the snap, but he did not crash the neutral zone before the snap. This was done by advancing the video one frame at a time — a granular level of detail that is obviously not required during a live play. Talib perfectly timed his actions to gain a few fractions of a second of an advantage on the offensive line.
Fumble pops out of pile
4:16 | 4th qtr. | video. Newton fumbled in the fourth quarter, causing a mass scramble (of which he notably shied away from) for the loose ball. When it appeared to be secured, Blakeman was approaching the pile-up to ascertain the ball was, indeed, dead and in possession. A quick whistle here can be disastrous, so it is incumbent upon to the covering officials to ensure there is a dead-ball situation. This play showed why this is the case, as the ball quickly scooted out of the pile, heading for Blakeman, who dove to get out of the way of the recovery.
The speed in which that ball emerged and was obviously propelled was under discussion in the comments section of this site. The point was made that this was an illegally batted ball by Miller.
The default position on any action on a loose ball is that it was legally muffed. From there, any intentionally muffed recovery is a batted ball, and a batted ball (in the field of play) that goes in the direction of the opponent’s end zone is illegally batted. Was Miller’s action on the ball an attempt to recover or an attempt to clear it out to the Broncos’ advantage? I rewound that portion dozens of times from multiple angles, and there is no action that can clearly be defined as an intentional muff. This is up to the discretion of the covering official, but there really isn’t anything under consideration. It was a legal recovery by the Broncos.
If an illegal batting penalty had been called, this would have been assessed from the previous spot (under a 2014 rule change), and Carolina keeping the ball, as illustrated below.