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Quick calls: Week 15

Liveblog coverage of the calls and rules interpretations in Week 15.



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



Patrick Weber
Mon Dec 18 • 12:48 am EST


Pylon play decides game

Cowboys at Raiders. Late in the fourth quarter, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr lost the ball as he reached for the pylon. It was determined that he fumbled the ball out of the endzone for a touchback. The call was confirmed on replay, and the Cowboys took over at their own 20 yard line with under a minute to go, essentially ending the game.

When the ball becomes dead in the endzone the result must be a touchdown, touch back or safety. The impetus that put the ball in the endzone was the Raider fumble, so the ruling becomes a touchback for the defense. While this type of play has been controversial in recent years, the rule is consistent with other aspects of the rulebook and is the same at all levels of the game. 

Marshawn Lynch was also called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for arguing with officials in the aftermath of the decision. 

Ben Austro
Mon Dec 18 • 12:45 am EST


First down by the width of a card

Cowboys at Raiders (video). For only the second time I can recall, the margin of a first down call was determined by the referee’s penalty card. Referee Gene Steratore called a pivotal first down that sustained a Cowboys drive; if it’s short, it is a turnover on downs. There was a controversy that the card was folded over, and perceived that the method was not entirely accurate. But in reality, the call was known well before the sticks came out on the field.

The series started with a punt return out of bounds at the 30. When outside of the red zone, it makes things a lot easier from an officiating standpoint to place the ball on a line on first down, instead of inches away from it. Steratore is aware that the chains were set at the front of the 30-yard stripe, and that if any part of the ball pokes over the paint on the 40, it is a first down.

So, why the horse-and-pony show with the chains anyway? Yes, there are technological advances that would do away with this device first introduced in 1906. But the idea is to give the offense a visual marker of the first-down line to gain, and to keep that spot consistently maintained. It’s purpose is not to make sure the offense gained 10.00 yards, but rather that they made the line to gain as set.

Steratore discussed the use of the index card in a post-game pool interview.


Ben Austro
Mon Dec 18 • 12:34 am EST


Out by a toe

Jets at Saints (video). Saints receiver Michael Thomas gets a touchdown reversed as his toe touches the end line on the catch.

Ben Austro
Sun Dec 17 • 9:36 pm EST


Steelers TD reversal

Patriots at Steelers. The reversal of the potential game-winning touchdown is a separate post.

Rich Madrid
Sun Dec 17 • 8:03 pm EST


Intentional grounding or QB/WR miscommunication?

Rams at Seahawks (video). Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw the ball out of bounds down field on a play that appeared to have some receiver/quarterback miscommunication. After a quick meeting of the officials, Ed Hochuli threw a flag for intentional grounding as there was not a receiver anywhere close to where the ball went out of bounds. The ball did travel farther than the line of scrimmage but there was not a receiver in the area and Wilson threw the ball from inside the pocket in the end zone, making it an automatic safety.

During the replay, there was some question by the announcers as to whether or not it should’ve been flagged for intentional grounding due to the possibility of there being some quarterback/receiver miscommunication. While that may be the case, it is not the officials job make subjective value judgments of play calling during the course of the game. It was also mentioned that the quarterback does not have to be under pressure but there was enough of a determination that he was under duress with the pass rush to make that call. 

Ben Austro
Sun Dec 17 • 7:41 pm EST


2 forward passes on the play

Jets at Saints (video). Jets quarterback Bryce Petty had a pass batted down and caught it. Petty then tried to turn nothing into something, and threw the ball again, which landed incomplete.

This is an illegal forward pass, and when there are 2 behind the line, it is a 5-yard penalty and repeat the down. (The down counts if an illegal pass is beyond the line.) In this case, the Saints are allowed to take the result of the second pass to bring up 4th down by declining the penalty. That creates a statistician’s nightmare with a complete and incomplete pass on the same play.

Ben Austro
Sun Dec 17 • 6:48 pm EST


Backward pass to nobody

Rams at Seahawks (video). Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was out of spin moves and jukes and attempted to pass the ball. Unfortunately, the ball went backwards and out of bounds, resulting in a 23-yard loss. If Wilson’s arm was going forward, and defensive contact made the ball go backwards, this would be an incomplete forward pass.

There is no intentional grounding under consideration since it was a backward pass (although the dead-ball spot is worse). This was outside of the 2-minute warning, but inside 2:00, this is a foul for consuming time. In that case, it would be a 5-yard foul from the dead-ball spot and a 10-second runoff.

Ben Austro
Sun Dec 17 • 6:30 pm EST


Delano Hill ejected

Rams at Seahawks. After throwing a punch after the play, safety Delano Hill is the 4th Seahawks player to be ejected this season, following last week’s twofer on consecutive plays in the final minute. Hochuli’s crew has now ejected 3 players this season, and Hill is the 18th overall, including preseason.

Rich Madrid
Sun Dec 17 • 5:26 pm EST


Possession review

Titans at 49ers (video). Titans linebacker Eric Walden and 49ers wide receiver Marquise Goodwin were initially involved in what appeared to be a simultaneous catch. The play was ruled a catch by Goodwin and the Titans moved to challenge. Replay upheld the ruling due to showing Goodwin coming down with possession before the ball ended up in Walden’s hands. Simultaneous catches are awarded to the receiver, but does not apply in this case since the receiver had sole control of the ball before there was joint control.

Ben Austro
Sun Dec 17 • 3:50 pm EST


Replay overturns because ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Packers at Panthers (video). We have devolved to counting butt cheeks instead of steps following a catch. 

Receiver Damiere Byrd hauls in a catch for the Panthers at the end line, which both the back judge and the side judge have ruled incomplete having been out of bounds. Coach Ron Rivera challenged that it was a touchdown, which all indications show that it was a bad challenge.

If Byrd’s tuchus touches the end zone before going out of bounds, it is a score, as one glute equals two feet. Someone in the replay command center ass-essed the call, and determined that some part of Byrd’s keister touched in bounds, when all appearances are that his rump was touching the now appropriately named end line.

The appropriate call would be “stands,” but centralized replay has not ceased in providing some very questionable calls this season.

Rich Madrid
Sun Dec 17 • 3:39 pm EST


Illegal blindside block

Packers at Panthers (video). After an Aaron Rodgers interception in the 3rd quarter by Panthers defender Colin Jones, Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis was flagged for an illegal blindside on Packers receiver DeVante Adams. Adams was injured on the play and will not return. Blindside and peel back blocks were made a point of emphasis this offseason (video in the hyperlink) and are being more heavily scrutinized and flagged in recent weeks, notably in the Steelers/Bengals Monday night game from two weeks ago.

Fouls for egregious hits can receive ejections, but in this case it’s difficult to determine if the hit is not seen at full speed due to the transition of the play and the officials transitioning to follow. It’s always clearer on replay but those judgments aren’t reviewable. Replay showed Davis launch up into Adams and make contact with his head. Players are protected by the defenseless player criteria for blocks such as that and I think it’s likely this action will result in a suspension this week for Davis.

Ben Austro
Sun Dec 17 • 2:26 pm EST


Roger, wilco

Cardinals at Washington. Coaches were seen communicating with walkie-talkies on the sideline, which immediately brought back shades of former Giants coach Ben McAdoo, whose use of the handheld device lead to disciplinary measures against the team.

There are two communication systems that operate under different rules: the coach-to-coach system and the coach-to-player system. The coach-to-player system goes from the head coach or predetermined assistant coach to the quarterback and a designated defensive player. These are identified as C2C and C2P.

The C2C system is decades old and is subject to the league’s equity rule: if one bench has an inoperable system, the other sideline also loses their access to the system until it has been repaired. The C2P system is newer, and it was not subject to the equity rule when it was instituted. One team can continue to use the C2P if the other team’s quarterback can only pull a signal from Lite FM.

It doesn’t happen often, but when the equity rule kicks in for the C2C system, all coaches must remove their headsets. Without the headsets, the designated coach must switch to the walkie-talkie to use the C2P. This walkie-talkie is ordinarily used by the backup quarterback on the bench for listening purposes.

This differs from the McAdoo situation in that there is no workaround when the C2P system doesn’t work; it is up to the league’s frequency technicians to fix the communication devices. The Giants used the walkie-talkie briefly until a football operations representative told them otherwise. The Giants had their 4th round draft choice demoted 10 positions as a result.

Ben Austro
Sun Dec 17 • 2:07 pm EST


Working for tips

Chargers at Chiefs, Sat. (video at 6:08). Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt had a touchdown for about half a second before the catch is waved off as incomplete. As he makes the catch, the tip of the ball touches the ground. The call on the field has to decide if the ground assisted the catch.

When a caught ball comes in contact with the ground, the ball can move in the receiver’s hand as long as there is continuous and demonstrable control and still be ruled a complete pass. However, that means that the control of the ball has to be well-established before it touches the ground in order for the receiver to get a favorable ruling. The fact that Hunt bobbled the ball slightly as he was pulling the ball to his body does not help the case of continuous control.

In replay, it is not a chance to re-officiate the play, rather they must start with the initial call and look for evidence to correct it. In this case, there is no clear an obvious evidence that there was no ground assist, so the ruling on the field stands.

Ben Austro
Sun Dec 17 • 12:46 pm EST


Today’s officials

Week 15 referee assignments

2017 officiating crews

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