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Quick calls: Week 13

Liveblog coverage of the calls and rules interpretations in Week 13.



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
Mon Dec 4 • 1:23 am EST


Replay is not the Jets Forte

Chiefs at Jets (video). In the last seconds of the second quarter, Jets running back Matt Forte scores a touchdown, but replays appear to have the ball coming down in the field of play when he is tackled. Senior vice president of officiating addressed the fact that there was not a conclusive angle to overturn the touchdown (video).

The Jets touchdown stands.

Ben Austro
Mon Dec 4 • 1:14 am EST


Backward pass goes forward?

Eagles at Seahawks (video). In the fourth quarter, the Seahawks were able to continue a drive on the way to a touchdown. However, a deft pitch play for a first down should have actually brought a 4th down and a punting situation.

Quarterback Russell Wilson was scrambling, then took off running. Beyond the line of scrimmage, he pitched to running back Mike Davis who got the first down and then some. When Wilson threw the ball, Davis was behind him, so everything’s cool, yes? Unfortunately, not so.

It does not matter what the positions of the players are, only the point of release of the pass and the point where the ball touches the player (or the ground, and official, or any object). Take the two points and draw a line between the two. If the line goes toward the opponent’s goal line, it is forward; if it is parallel to or toward the team’s own goal, then it is backward.

Wilson releases at about the Seahawks 47-yard line, and Davis touches the ball at the 48. Because both players were moving, the pass that went backward was touched beyond where it was thrown. There is no exception that allows this, so it is an illegal forward pass.

The Eagles should have challenged this, because it would have been a certain overturn, and would have been assessed 5 yards from the spot of the pass. This would have brought up a 4th & 7 on the Seahawks side of the 50.

As to whether the officials should have called this on the field; well, yes, of course they should have. But the officials were not in the best position to make this call. Because of Wilson’s run, the down judge and the line judge had to hold the line of scrimmage. Wilson even pump faked, which also kept these officials watching for the call on the line. Once he has cleared the line, they start upfield, so they are already trailing the play. Had the same situation have happened at or behind the line of scrimmage, they would have been in a better place to rule on forward/backward.

Mark Schultz
Sun Dec 3 • 11:20 pm EST


After further review, no touchdown

Eagles at Seahawks (video). Doug Baldwin almost gets a touchdown. The Eagles’ defender swept Baldwin’s leg out of bounds. Official Terry Brown initially ruled touchdown, but instant replay changed it to a catch and out of bounds.

Ben Austro
Sun Dec 3 • 9:48 pm EST


Flag incoming!

Vikings at Falcons (video). A penalty flag comes in from a distance following a play and hits Falcons center Alex Mack in the head. The flag has to go generally to the area of the foul, and when thrown from a distance, it can be a bit unpredictable. While it’s a funny blooper in this case, it evokes memories of a very unfortunate circumstance.

In Jeff Triplette’s first season at referee, he threw a penalty marker toward the line of scrimmage on a false start, as was typically done. Browns lineman Orlando Brown was in the path of the flag, and was temporarily blinded when he was hit in the eye. He did not play again for 4 years, and he reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with the NFL. The procedures were altered to encourage flags to go away from players and to elevate over the helmet level to minimize the flag from going inside the helmet.

A lesser profile case was found by our partners at Quirky Research almost 13 years earlier when a Chargers lineman was injured by a flag to the eye in 1986.

Ben Austro
Sun Dec 3 • 8:27 pm EST


Field markings hashed out

Vikings at Falcons (video). Fox Sports reporter Pam Oliver said that the hashmarks on the field were painted incorrectly. The stadium hosted the SEC Championship yesterday and had to remove the hashmarks for the college game and put the pro ones in. (It’s not a good weekend for grounds crews, as the Lucas Oil Stadium crew had a feature role in repairing a rip in the end zone turf.)

The league insists — with an exemption for Tom Benson Stadium at the Pro Football Hall of Fame — that pro hashmarks be the only hashmarks on the field unless there are extenuating circumstances. The hashmarks were reportedly off by 7 inches, although it clearly was more — the inside point of the line aligns with the goal posts, but they appear to be completely inside them. The inside of the hash is exactly 70¾ feet from the sideline.

In the video above, you can see how they rectified the situation: the ball is placed where the hashmark would have been, which resulted in the ball being spotted outside the hashes. Since they are 24 inches long, the error is closer to a yard. (h/t Jeese in the comments)

Rich Madrid
Sun Dec 3 • 7:27 pm EST


Kick-off recovery

Panthers at Saints. On an onside kick, the Panthers attempted to recover the ball after it went 10 yards. Receiver Devin Funchess lunged to make a recovery attempt and landed out of bounds as he touched the ball. The ball was scooped up by the Panthers and ruled a Panthers recovery. On replay it was determined that Funchess was touching out of bounds when he touched the ball, making it an automatic dead ball and giving the Saints possession at the out of bounds spot because it is nearer than 25 yards (on deep kicks, they get the 40 yard line for possession). 

Ben Austro
Sun Dec 3 • 6:36 pm EST


Play clock error leads to penalty

Giants at Raiders. The Giants were assessed a delay of game as Giants head coach Ben McAdoo and his quarterback of the (brief) future Geno Smith look confused. At the conclusion of the play, shown here, the play clock started winding at 25 seconds, instead of 40.

This is a huge mistake, and one which will likely have serious repercussions for the clock staff. Clock operators are local personnel who are hired, fired, and trained by the league. They tend to have college officiating experience as well. While the Giants lost the ball two plays later on a sack-fumble, they would not have been in a third down passing situation without the penalty.

The play clock operator, if this was realized before the clock wound down, could have reset the play clock to 40 and held the time, in order to get the attention of the back judge and get a stoppage. Then, the clock operator can call the replay booth to get the proper information to the field.

This is also ding on the crew, as back judge Greg Steed is responsible for the operation of the play clock. While he also has other duties between downs, such as counting defensive players, he needs to pick up on the fact that the clock is not operated properly. The referee, in some cases of a short clock due to outside causes, can signal the play clock be “pumped” up to 25. Failing that, anymember of the crew who has positive knowledge of the game clock from the previous play (the side judge, primarily, but all officials should) can realize that there was a discrepancy. Then, they can put the 15 seconds on the clock (difference from the 40 and 25), and restart from there.

With the foul, the crew had time to rectify the error up until the next snap.

Ben Austro
Sun Dec 3 • 5:42 pm EST


Multiple late hits offset all but 1

Patriots at Bills (video). After an interception, a rare display of undisciplined behavior was exhibited in a seemingly-coordinated simultaneous attack of late hits.

The one visible on the video is tight end Rob Gronkowski’s late hit which comes as he lands on a prone Tre’Davious White on the sideline. If there was a question as to whether White was down, Gronkowski cannot land on him; only a touch is needed. Separately, receiver Danny Amendola hits Bills defensive back Micah Hyde late. Hyde retaliates, which is not a foul generally, but is a foul when he rips off Amendola’s helmet. Also, again separately, Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes is flagged for something he said to an official.

All of the fouls are dead-ball fouls, so the interception stands. The foul by Hughes is taken out of the equation for now, as it is a foul against an official. The unnecessary roughness fouls offset by rule, even though it is a 2-to-1 infraction. They are both in the “dead-ball foul” bucket.

All fouls against an official are assessed as between downs, so once the roughness fouls are taken care of, they set the chains, and then Hughes’ foul is enforced. This means that the Bills have a 1st-and-25 to start the drive.

Additional considerations: should they have ejected Gronkowski? It’s borderline, and they certainly could have considered it flagrant enough to do so. It is still a hit that can be seen as absent of malicious intent, so it becomes a judgment call. Adding into the equation is that it is a head hit on a defeneseless player, which was not as announced, but is certainly an elevating factor. There is a separate judgment call that is to be made Monday morning at league headquarters to see if it is a suspendable offense. It still may not raise to that level, but there have been other surprises this season.

[This entry was updated to reflect that the end zone camera shows a much more flagrant action of a hit to the head, as opposed to merely being a late hit.]

Mark Schultz
Sun Dec 3 • 4:28 pm EST


Bizarre sequence in New York

Chiefs at Jets (video). After the personal foul (see entry below) keeps the Jets alive, they punch it in for a touchdown. The Jets try a two-point conversion to go up by seven. On the two point conversion, Josh McCown scrambles for his life and throws in incomplete pass. 

Side judge Keith Washington calls the Chiefs for a defensive hold, allowing the Jets to try the conversion again. The Chiefs Marcus Peters, picks Washington’s flag and heaves it into the stands. Washington throws his hat and calls Peters for a well-deserved unsportsmanlike conduct foul. As fans in the stands are taking selfies with Washington’s flag, the officials have to figure out how to enforce the penalties.

The Jets accepted the defensive holding foul and the unsportsmanlike conduct foul and ultimately ran a successful two-point retry. Normally they can only accept one foul, but the unsportsmanlike conduct foul happened between downs and is a foul on an official, meaning it is handled separately and both fouls can be assessed.

The defensive hold enforcement granted the Jets the chance to re-try the point. The Jets also chose to tack on the unsportsmanlike conduct foul on the try, too, but they should have been allowed to take the 15 yards to the kickoff, by rule:

All fouls will result in the distance penalty being assessed on the ensuing kickoff, unless Team A (offense) chooses to attempt a retry after enforcement of the penalty, or the penalty negates a score by Team B.

Because they are enforced separately, the 15-yard foul can be “bridged” to the kickoff, since it doesn’t affect the Jets ability to re-try.

But wait, we’re not done yet. Marcus Peters self-ejected himself. You read that right. After heaving Washington’s flag into the stands, Peters headed to the locker room, even taking his gloves off and giving them to a fan. Someone ran to the locker room and told him referee John Parry and Washington never gave him the thumb. Peters eventually returned to the field. We don’t know if he thought he was ejected or if he was so mad he left the field on his own.

No word if Washington got his flag back. 

Mark Schultz
Sun Dec 3 • 4:08 pm EST


Personal foul lets Jets go for touchdown

Chiefs at Jets. The Jets line up for a go-ahead field goal in the 4th quarter. Umpire Mark Pellis flags a Chiefs player for roughing the Jets long snapper. The snapper had his head down and Pellis ruled there was forcible contact against the snapper. The personal foul kept the Jets drive alive, culminating with a touchdown.

Ben Austro
Sun Dec 3 • 3:40 pm EST


Replay unkind to the Jets

Chiefs at Jets (video). The league headquarters is almost visible from MetLife Stadium — and about an hour away via the Holland Tunnel, if you’re lucky — but that obviously has not turned into a home-field advantage for the Jets when it comes to replay.

Quarterback Josh McCown appears to have a touchdown, but is ruled short. In replay, there is a shot down the line that shows McCown is across the goal, but the ball is not visible. The angle from the back of the end zone shows McCown in possession of the ball in his upfield arm prior to the contact that pushed him back. Neither angle on its own shows a conclusive touchdown, but replay is permitted to observe two aspects in different angles that have a common reference point, in this case, the contact by the Chiefs to push McCown back.

Replay headquarters either did not consider the two angles or deemed it inconclusive. The short-of-the-goal call stands, and the Jets lose the challenge.

Ben Austro
Sun Dec 3 • 2:19 pm EST


Down by contact requires contact

Patriots at Bills. An incomplete pass was ruled as Patriots quarterback Tom Brady tripped and was able to sling a pass while on the ground. Bills coach Sean McDermott challenged the call, looking for a sack.

On the review, as referee Gene Steratore announced, there was no defensive contact with Brady, therefore it is still a live ball when he throws it. Even if a defensive player brushed up against Brady, or if Brady wound up touching a Bills player, it would be down by contact.

There is a case to be made that Brady intentionally grounded the ball. Steratore conferred with down judge David Oliver after the play to determine if there was a receiver in the area. (Brady was still in the pocket at the time at was under the threat of a sack.) It is a judgment call if there is a receiver in the area, and it was a bad throw because of being on the ground, which can help the quarterback in this case. Still, there does seem to be enough to support an intentional grounding call.

McDermott could be seen arguing the grounding no-call with the officials after the replay confirmed the call. A call of intentional grounding cannot be called in replay.

Rich Madrid
Sun Dec 3 • 2:05 pm EST


Spot challenge 

49ers at Bears. Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky scrambled toward the first down marker and tried to extend the ball across before going out of bounds. The ball is spotted where it crossed the out of bounds line, not where it lands when he goes out of bounds. The Bears challenged the spot and replay upheld the spot short of the line to gain. Bears lose a timeout. It is not clear why Hochuli announced they would measure the distance remaining since the down series started at the 25 off a touchback and the Bears had to get to the 35. 

Ben Austro
Sun Dec 3 • 1:20 pm EST


LJ Tom Stephan injured

Buccaneers at Packers. Line judge Tom Stephan injured his knee 4 minutes into the first quarter. There are no alternate officials for regular season games, so each crew has decided in advance how a vacancy at each position would be handled. In this case, Terry McAulay’s crew will leave the line judge position open, leaving the down judge solely responsible for the line of scrimmage and the field judge in charge of the one sideline.

Stephan is a swing official that is not assigned to any crew. McAulay’s regular line judge is Carl Johnson, who is off this week.

In this video, you can see that field judge Michael Banks has moved up to cover the line judge position to make the call on the goal line. When the goal line or first-down line is not threatened, he will take his normal deep position.

Ben Austro
Sun Dec 3 • 1:08 pm EST


Today’s officials

Week 13 referee assignments

2017 officiating crews


The following are scheduled substitutions, and we will revise if we see any late substitutions.

  • U64 Dan Ferrell* to Vinovich’s crew (IND-JAX)
  • U129 Bill Schuster* and FJ 103 Eugene Hall to Corrente’s crew (PHI-SEA/Sunday night)
  • DJ37 Jim Howey* to Parry’s crew (KC-NYJ)
  • LJ68 Tom Stephan* to McAulay’s crew (TB-GB)
  • FJ1 Scott Novak to Torbert’s crew (LAR-AZ)
  • FJ50 Aaron Santi to Boger’s crew (DET-BAL)
  • FJ82 Buddy Horton to Coleman’s crew (CLE-LAC)
  • SJ15 Rick Patterson* to Steratore’s crew (NE-BUF)
  • SJ29 Adrian Hill to Hochuli’s crew (SF-CHI)

*Swing officials that are assigned to different crews each week

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