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Sherman’s hit at the end of the game is legal

After a controversial set of plays earlier in the game, Walt Anderson’s officiating crew was presented with another controversial call as the Bills failed to convert on 4th and goal at the end of the game. As the fourth-down play unfolded, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman hit and knocked down Bills receiver Walter Powell in the corner of the endzone.  

Even though this looks like another officiating controversy added to this game, the crew got this one right.

Although defensive backs generally aren’t allowed to contact a receiver more than five yards down the field, this play is legal for a few reasons. Defensive backs are allowed to establish  their space. It appeared that Powell  was trying to get Sherman to back off by doing a Maverick-style buzzing of the tower and Sherman just defended his space. Also, quarterback Tyrod Taylor was out of the pocket so it is legal to block the same as if it was a run play, and it was legal for Sherman to hit Powell at that time.

Defensive pass interference is only back on the table when the quarterback returns to a passing posture.

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Patrick Weber
Patrick Weber is a four sport official working at the high school and college levels in football, baseball, basketball and soccer. He currently resides near Chicago, Illinois.

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12 thoughts on “Sherman’s hit at the end of the game is legal

  1. Very bad example If your saying this call is right why wouldn’t every defender do this on qb rollout.

  2. Defending his space? By laying out a WR downfield? It is obviously at least illegal contact – 5 yards and automatic first down.


    Beyond the five-yard zone, if the player who receives the snap remains in the pocket with the ball, a defender cannot initiate contact with a receiver who is attempting to evade him. A defender may use his hands or arms only to defend or protect himself against impending contact caused by a receiver.

  4. That hit is not only blatantly illegal, it’s cheap and dirty. The explanation here is just ridiculous. As pointed out above, if it was legal to just level wide receivers coming into the end zone on any play where the QB rolls out, why wouldn’t every DB do it all the time? Also, far from “defending his space”, Sherman leans in and uses his arms to blindside the receiver and viciously deck him. I expect nothing less from a known dirty player like Sherman. I expect a little more from Mr. Weber and this site.

  5. @David Berry – Did you even read the rule you posted? The part that says “if the player who receives the snap remains in the pocket with the ball” is pretty important, seeing as Tyrod Taylor was well outside of the pocket. Also “impending contact caused by a receiver” is what happened. Sherman moves backwards in a straight line, the receiver cuts in and heads straight at him without turning his head, then Sherman takes a stutter step to plant himself. The receiver never looked where he was going; he was 100% on a collision course with Sherman.

    @Al O, D Senior, and Fred Gavin – There is nothing cheap about this. The receiver never cared to look where he was going, but Sherman saw that the QB was out of the pocket and turned his attention to the receiver. The receiver makes a cut in and heads directly towards Sherman. Given that the QB is scrambling, there is no reason for Sherman to get out of the way. He does what every DB should do and engages legally. You DO see similar situations in other games, but usually the receivers have the presence of mind to know where the defenders are so they don’t just run right into them. That’s a pretty big part of getting open.

  6. Danny = Most of the comments here are people who
    1) don’t read the article,
    2) don’t read the rulebook
    3) if they do read the rulebook they don’t comprehend it.

  7. Tony

    Most of the comments here are from people who never played and are ready for flag football… and the complete chickification of America.

    Props to my buddy Richard. Richard is more than a flashy guy with dreads who can run fast. This young man is a football player!

  8. Al O – if the rules permit defensive players to establish their space, how do you think the rules intend for him to do that other than by using his arms and leaning in? Should he bring some wood and build a fence? Use a yard sign like politicians? Politely say, “Hey, this is my space”?
    If he doesn’t “lean in,” Powell’s momentum is going to knock Sherman right out of his “established” space.

  9. Defensive pass interference begins when the ball is thrown not when the QB is in a passing posture. If he is running/scrambling and then decides to throw, contact by a defender is still a foul. Also, keep in mind, the NFL has an Illegal Contact foul which means defender can not make contact with the receivers beyond 5 yards.

  10. Again though, this is a patently ridiculous interpretation, which would significantly change the passing game in the NFL. If this is how these rules are to be interpreted and called in the future (and they haven’t been up to now), you should expect every DB to simply level the receiver they’re covering as soon as a QB comes out of the pocket. That would be a much smarter play than waiting for the QB to throw the ball and having to actually try to cover the receiver under the stringent pass interference rules. And forget about “hail mary” passes, since QBs almost always roll out to throw those. Now DBs can simply camp out and knock the receivers down as they come at them, any time between when the QB begins to roll out and when he throws the ball.

    But those things don’t happen, and teams don’t do this regularly (except, I gather from Seattle fans, the Seahawks). And the reason is that even if it isn’t illegal contact, it’s unnecessary roughness. As former official Jim Daopoulos stated this morning on ESPN. If this sort of play is regularly allowed, watch the league have to make a rule to protect receivers, who will soon be getting blasted left and right.

  11. Reads like a number of you are Sherman fans trying to justify his vicious assault in the end zone. As I watch the video, I note that the official on the goal line has a direct sight path to the hit. He DOES NOT EVEN REACH FOR HIS FLAG. As he was watching the action in the end zone, there was no way for him to know the QB had left the pocket. At the very least, he should have thrown the flag, and perhaps picked it up after conferring with up-field officials. However, as documented by the video, he had no intention of penalizing Sherman’s action. In addition, Weber’s claim that Sherman was just “defending his space” is laughable. The receiver was “doing a Maverick-style buzzing of the tower?” Sounds like Weber is struggling to find a reason to defend Sherman. Sad commentary………

  12. Lol, the hit isn’t even vicious…Powell got shoulder checked as he changed his direction of momentum, which is what made him fall flat on his ass. NFL is not for the faint hearted, don’t like full contact sports watch baseball.

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