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Quick calls: Week 4

Liveblog coverage of the Week 4 calls and rule interpretations in the NFL.




Keep checking here for rolling coverage throughout the day on Sunday. If you see anything confusing, unusual, or controversial, please let us know.

Ben Austro
Sun Oct 2 • 10:15 pm EDT


Seahawks at Jets

Broncos at Buccaneers

SVP/officiating Dean Blandino looks at two plays that were reviewed in replay. The first was a Seahawks challenge of a Jets incomplete pass, looking for a potential recovery of a catch-fumble. There was not enough element of time to establish a catch to reverse the call.

Also, a touchdown run by Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston was reviewed for breaking the plane of the goal.While Winston’s knee was down, he was not contacted by the defense previous to that. (It’s possible that defensive contact came simultaneous to the knee, but it is not clear.) Without clear evidence as to when the contact came, the call stood.

Download link of the video is below:

Patrick Weber
Sun Oct 2 • 4:45 pm EDT


Bills at Patriots

Referee Pete Morelli accidentally left his microphone on while in a timeout during the third quarter, and broadcast a few words that were heard over the public address system.

This might not have been noticeable in the stands (our own Cameron Filipe was at the game and didn’t notice), but the press box has a clearer sound system to hear all the details.

The fact that the use of profanity was heard could lead to discipline for Morelli. Tony Corrente was involved in a similar situation in 2012, and was fined one game check.


Ben Austro
Mon Oct 3 • 12:16 am EDT


Cleveland at Washington (video)

After an interception, Washington cornerback Josh Norman headed off the field and pantomimed taking an arrow out of a quiver and shooting it. This lead to referee Jeff Triplette making this announcement:

After the play is over, unsportsmanlike conduct, number 24, shooting a bow and arrow. That foul counts as one of those that leads to a disqualification. 1st and 10, Washington.

While seemingly innocent, and not directed at the opponent, it is covered in the directive of violent gestures/pantomimed weaponry that the league really does not want to have an association with. In the unsportsmanlike conduct rules, it is contained in paragraph C, which is further elaborated as follows:

Violations of (c) will be penalized if any of the acts occur anywhere on the field. These acts include, but are not limited to: throat slash; machine-gun salute; sexually-suggestive gestures; prolonged gyrations; or stomping on a team logo.

The gesture, as Triplette stated, is part of the group of fouls that result in a warning for automatic ejection on a second offense.

And we can add Triplette’s call to our list of amusing calls — but Ben Drieth has held the top spot for 30 years.

Ben Austro
Mon Oct 3 • 12:15 am EDT


Cleveland at Washington (video)

Browns running back Duke Johnson lost the ball on a fourth quarter run. He emerges from the fumble scrum with the ball, but line judge Sarah Thomas indicated that it was Washington ball.

Thomas’s signal does come very quickly, which is fairly unusual for this type of play. What this signal indicates is that she had established possession, and there was a subsequent change of hands. It is always preferable to rule possession before it disappears in a pile of players, but typically a ball is moving and possession is not secure enough to deem possession. What ensues is the unpiling, and the first player seen in possession of the ball determines possession, despite multiple changes that may occur in the pile.

This was reviewed by replay, but there is no way to give the Browns possession, as the ball is briefly out of view in both angles shown. There was no angle to show the look that Thomas had, and there is a chance that her angle was completely unobstructed.

Patrick Weber
Sun Oct 2 • 7:49 pm EDT


Cowboys at 49ers

Near the end of the game in San Francisco, the Cowboys were in victory formation to the kneel the clock out. On the first snap, quarterback Dak Prescott took the snap and waited for pressure for the 49ers defense before going giving himself up. Immediately following the play, referee Terry McAulay appeared to briefly talk to Prescott. While there is nothing in the rules requiring the quarterback to immediately give themselves up, it is generally accepted that neither team will go one hundred percent and the quarterback should go relatively straight to the ground. McAulay was likely reminding Prescott of this, and on the following two snaps the Cowboys quarterback did take the snap and go straight to a knee. 


Ben Austro
Sun Oct 2 • 5:56 pm EDT


Titans at Texans

Although it is not technically an inadvertent whistle, a pre-snap whistle shut down a potential blocked punt by the Texans.

Back judge Steve Patrick is one of the officials responsible for counting the defensive players. He counted 12 on defense, but one of the players was exiting the field and was successful in doing so. So why did this play get shut down?

There are two different fouls for defensive-12-men. If a player is getting off the field and does not make it to the sideline, it is a live-ball foul. If the 12 are in formation, and the snap is imminent, it is a snap-killing foul. The 12 in formation cannot be called if a player is making an attempt to leave the field. What seems to have happened is Patrick started counting when the defense momentarily set in formation, but the snap was not imminent, and probably counted from right to left. When counting the leftmost player as the 12th player, then the conclusion that they were in formation the entire time misses the fact that a player exited from the right side.

It was the wrong call to shut down the snap, but the blocked punt most likely was possible because the offensive line eased up on the whistle. There is no controversy if the erroneous whistle comes without the snap, and this essentially has to be treated the same, even though it, admittedly, looks sloppy. If a flag is thrown in error, it can just be picked up; unfortunately, there is no way to erase the whistle.

Mark Schultz
Sun Oct 2 • 5:48 pm EDT


Cowboys at 49ers | :12, 2nd qtr.

Line judge Tom Stephan is hit from four o’clock and takes a spill. He got up after a few moments and continued in the game without missing a play.

Mark Schultz
Sun Oct 2 • 4:30 pm EDT


Cowboys at 49ers

Referee Terry McAulay is on the field for the first time of the regular season. McAulay has missed the start of the season for an undisclosed, non-injury situation.

Ben Austro
Sun Oct 2 • 4:17 pm EDT


Seahawks at Jets (video)

Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was attempting to pass, but was hit with his arm back. The ball rolled forward, and not hearing a whistle, Jets receiver Charone Peake picked up the ball and ran 40 yards into the end zone.

First, it is not an incomplete pass, as Fitzpatrick’s arm is not moving forward until after he loses control of the ball. Therefore, his forward arm motion is pushing a loose ball, and not initiating a pass.

Peake is allowed to advance the ball on a forward fumble by the offense. The only restriction on offensive fumbles is that a teammate of a fumbler cannot advance the ball when it is fourth down or on any down after the 2:00 warning.

Mark Schultz
Sun Oct 2 • 4:11 pm EDT


Seahawks at Jets (video)

Outstanding call by Carl Cheffers. He rules Ryan Fitzpatrick fumbles the ball and Charone Peake takes the fumble 40-yards for a touchdown. Since there was more than two minutes left in the half and it wasn’t fourth down, this is a legal fumble advance. 

Great job by Cheffers and crew to hold the whistle as only Peake and Cheffers appeared to know what the call was.

Mark Schultz
Sun Oct 2 • 4:03 pm EDT


Panthers at Falcons (video)

Devin Funches breaks tackles to gain extra yards. Back judge Keith Ferguson was breaking to the dead ball spot when Funches broke tackles. Seeing that he was too close to the play and Funches was closing ground on him, Ferguson wheeled to the side to get out of the way of the play.

Mark Schultz
Sun Oct 2 • 3:59 pm EDT


Lions at Bears | 1:52, 4th qtr.

Lions score a late TV to pull within three points. During the break, Corrente’s crew huddles to make sure the inevitable onside kick is covered properly and everyone is on the same page regarding the rules.

Mark Schultz
Sun Oct 2 • 3:52 pm EDT


Raiders at Ravens (video)

Denico Autry recovers a Joe Flacco fumble. Ed Hochuli, Carl Paganelli and Rusty Baynes display calm and poise on this call–no frantic stop the clock signals or pointing. It is a good philosophy to save the “big” signals for a tough call that needs selling. 

Mark Schultz
Sun Oct 2 • 3:45 pm EDT


Seahawks at Jets (video)

Bobby Wagner sacks Ryan Fitzpatrick. As Wagner gets up off the ground, he pushes off of Fitzpatrick. At least on the amateur level we always tell the players to “roll off” the pile and to push off the ground, as pushing off of people can inflame the situation.

Ben Austro
Sun Oct 2 • 3:26 pm EDT


Panthers at Falcons (video)

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is put on notice early in the game, and is at the risk of ejection.

After a quarterback sneak in the opening minutes of the first quarter, Newton flips the ball at the Falcons defense and demonstratively gestures a first down in the face of the opponent. These actions make it difficult for the officials to maintain control of the game, as revenge is rarely served cold in the NFL. This was a clear violation of the taunting rules.

Newton also receives a warning under the 2&DQ rule, where a second taunting or unsportsmanlike conduct foul in the category is an automatic ejection. This means Newton is under the cloud of disqualification for all but the first two minutes of the game. A quarterback has not been ejected from a game since Buccaneers quarterback Trent Dilfer in 1995, although Newton was nearly (and should have been) ejected in a 2012 game.

Mark Schultz
Sun Oct 2 • 3:21 pm EDT


Raiders at Ravens (video)

Jalen Richard makes several cuts on this long punt return. For the referee and umpire, this is a challenging play as they must be in proper position to make the call, yet stay out of the way. Ed Hochuli made some good decisions to get out of the way. 

Also, head linesman Greg Bradley did a nice job getting to the goal line ahead of Richard. 

Mark Schultz
Sun Oct 2 • 3:11 pm EDT


Cleveland at Washington (video)

Kirk Cousins is hit and fumbles. It sure looked like the Browns recovered, but during replay from the endzone angle, we still see the ball moving. This is why officials are taught to not blow the whistle until the see that the ball is dead. If the wing official had blown the whistle, it would have been an inadvertent whistle and an error on the crew.

Ben Austro
Sun Oct 2 • 3:09 pm EDT


Bills at Patriots


Football Zebras writer Cameron Filipe is at this game and reports that LJ Carl Johnson left the game at halftime. R Pete Morelli made an announcement at the start of the third quarter that the crew was operating with 6 officials.

Johnson was hit on a scramble out of bounds in the second quarter.

Johnson was seen warming up on the Patriots sideline midway through the third quarter and returned to the game after a possession change.

We also received a report from @bzref who showed this image of the gap in the sideline. FJ Doug Rosenbaum is tasked with monitoring the entire sideline, and HL Steve Stelljes has the line of scrimmage without support. Crews make these determiniations as to how they will cover a vacancy in each position, depending on their strengths and prior position experience. For instance, rather than leave the LJ position vacant, some crews will have the BJ move to fill the vacancy, either directly or by a 2-person move.

Image: @bzref

Ben Austro
Sun Oct 2 • 1:57 pm EDT


Lions at Bears

img_20161002_133542088.jpgLions quarterback Matthew Stafford threw a forward pass from beyond the line of scrimmage. The foul is assessed from the spot of the pass and is a loss of down.

Ben Austro
Sun Oct 2 • 1:05 pm EDT


Bills at Patriots (video)

During pregame warmups, Bills and Patriots players started mixing things up. The scuffle apparently occurred when Patriots quarterback Jacoby Brissett was in the Bills warmup zone. As ESPN’s Mike Reiss points out, it is a pregame tradition for the quarterback to run the length of the field during warmups.

If this is, in fact, the root cause of the scuffle, this is because it violates the NFL established warmup “map” to prevent these situations from occurring in the first place. It is also a silly response from the Bills, and it looks like there is enough guilt to go around to both sides.

No penalties were assessed, but the officials may do so if they deem the actions flagrant enough. (Officials assume jurisdiction 100 minutes prior to kickoff.) If the pregame fighting got particularly violent, the officials can eject players from the game. Because it is hard to spot an aggressor in this situation, the replay equipment can be (and has been used in the past) to mete out penalties in warmups.


Ben Austro
Sun Oct 2 • 11:50 am EDT


Colts vs. Jaguars (video)

On a touchdown run, Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles punted the ball in the stands. This is an offense that will draw a $ 6,076 fine, but it is not a foul. It is not an unsportsmanlike act, as it is not much more than a post-touchdown spike, which is legal. If Bortles did this directly in front of an opponent, it would draw a taunting foul, just the same as a touchdown spike at an opponent’s feet. (Such a taunting foul would also be halfway to an ejection under the new unsportsmanlike conduct rules.)

A player who hands a ball to a specific person in the stands is not fined, because it doesn’t cause a scramble in the stands for the ball.

Incidentally, it is a foul for delay of game if Bortles’ kick happens in the field of play (i.e., not out-of-bounds) on any other play that is not a touchdown.

Ben Austro
Sun Oct 2 • 11:25 am EDT


Colts vs. Jaguars

Jaguars receiver Allen Robinson was hit in the helmet by Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, drawing a flag. Robinson then spun the ball in front of the Colts players. While spinning the ball is not a foul by itself, it is taunting when it is directed at an opponent. One foul is a live-ball foul, the other is a dead-ball foul, but they combine to be assessed as live-ball fouls. This means the 6-yard reception is wiped out, but the Jaguars repeat the down. If both fouls are dead-ball fouls, the down counts.

Although there seems to be a mismatch in infractions, as one is clearly a player-safety issue, there really is no way to account for all combinations of various fouls, only if to offset for some perceived incongruity.

Ben Austro
Sun Oct 2 • 9:15 am EDT


Today’s officials


  • U 124 Carl Paganelli* to Hochuli’s crew (OAK-BAL)
  • LJ 90 Mike Spanier* to Coleman’s crew (NO-SD)
  • FJ 95 James Coleman* to Triplette’s crew (CLE-WAS)
  • SJ 89 Jon Lucivansky* to McAulay’s crew (DAL-SF)

*Swing officials that are moved between crews each week.

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