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Report: League admits error on grounding call that stalls last-minute drive

According to Mike Jones of USA Today, the league has already admitted to the team that this was not properly enforced.



Week 11: Washington at Saints (video)

After the game was tied by the Saints with about a minute to go in the game, Washington had one last chance to avoid overtime by getting into field goal range. With the ball at the Saints 34, quarterback Kirk Cousins tried to complete a quick-out pass to the sideline, but there was nobody in the vicinity other than the ballboy. After some deliberation, referee Walt Coleman called intentional grounding on Cousins.

Intentional grounding is not an immediate flag, rather it involves no fewer than two officials to confirm that all the boxes are checked. It is correct that Cousins was in the pocket: check. There was no receiver in the area of the pass: check. Miscommunication with the receiver running the wrong route is not something that officials consider in an intentional grounding call, only that the receiver is in the general area.

But one crucial element was missing from the call: whether Cousins was under threat of being sacked. Because of the quick release of the ball, the Saints had not yet exerted pressure on Cousins. The base definition of intentional grounding is in Rule 8-2-1, with the key provision in bold: 

It is a foul for intentional grounding if a passer, facing an imminent loss of yardage because of pressure from the defense, throws a forward pass without a realistic chance of completion. A realistic chance of completion is defined as a pass that is thrown in the direction of and lands in the vicinity of an originally eligible receiver.

The imminent loss of yardage provision is not often a consideration, and in the post-play, pre-flag discussion, this had to be reconstructed by memory. Unfortunately, this not only moved Washington further from field goal range, the associated 10-second runoff left 9 seconds on the clock. The next play resulted in a fumble, and the game headed to overtime.

According to Mike Jones of USA Today, the league has already admitted to the team that this was not properly enforced.

This is not a reviewable call (only the spot of the foul, and not the foul itself can be reviewed). That’s not to say that the replay official doesn’t have the ability to communicate with the field to indicate there was no defensive threat on the play, but a typical officials’ conference should not have outside interference. (While it could have helped here, there are situations where it could hurt.) We don’t know how much of an assist the officials get from replay, but for consistency’s sake, this is not one of the calls it should be involved in, as the crew has to form a judgment call.

Bottom line is, the crew had all of the information it needed without help to make the call on the play, and it is a significant miscall.

Although the incomplete pass would have lead to a long field goal attempt if no additional yards were gained, the yardage plus the 10-second runoff negated the effort.

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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