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Quick calls: Week 17

Liveblog coverage of the calls and rules interpretations in Week 17.



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 Dec 31 • 8:31 pm EDT


Gregory Hines would be proud

Bills at Dolphins (video). An elaborate toe-tap fake by the Dolphins prior to an onside kick causes the Bills to jump ahead of the restraining line early, drawing a flag. The kicker is only allowed to have his plant foot on  or beyond the kicking line, but that doesn’t mean the pre-kick approach is allowed to go beyond.

Once the ball goes 10 yards or is touched by the Bills, the Dolphins are allowed to recover the ball. Had the Bills recovered, the Dolphins would be allowed to rekick.

Ben Austro
Sun Dec 31 • 8:30 pm EDT


99-yd fumble return wiped

Bills at Dolphins (video). On the play prior to being ejected, Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry extends for the goal line and fumbles the ball. Linebacker Preston Brown takes the ball 99 yards for an apparent Bills touchdown.

On review, Landry clearly has lost control of the ball, but when he is touching the sideline, he comes in contact with the ball. That puts the ball out of bounds in the field of play, which means that the Dolphins get the ball back at that spot, and the Bills touchdown is wiped out.

Amusingly, Brown was confused by the announcement and began celebrating on the sideline (video).

Hypothetically, if Landry — while out of bounds outside of the end zone — touched the ball that was breaking the plane of the goal in bounds, then it puts the ball out of bounds in the end zone, even though Landry is not in the end zone, and the ball is not over the sideline. In this scenario, it would be a touchback, with the Bills getting the ball at the 20-yard line.

Ben Austro
Sun Dec 31 • 7:58 pm EDT


Multiple ejections in Miami

Bills at Dolphins (video). The pot boils over on a Dolphins touchdown, which leads to several personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct fouls.

  • Ryan Groy (BUF), unneccessary roughness
  • Jarvis Landry (MIA), unsportsmanlike conduct
  • Jarvis Landry (MIA), unsportsmanlike conduct towards an official, ejected
  • Kenyon Drake (MIA), throwing helmet, ejected
  • Kenny Stills (MIA), unnecessary roughness
  • Leonard Johnson (BUF), unnecessary roughness

To enforce this, we take out the Landry foul against the official and hold it for later. All of the remaining fouls are post-score fouls and offset, even though there isn’t an equal number of fouls. A foul against an official is held for “between downs” and goes to the kickoff in this case. It cannot be enforced on the extra-point attempt. The ejections are enforced no matter what.

There was some confusion on the uniform numbers of the offenders. While the fouls are not reviewable, the replay official and the New York command center is permitted to assist in getting ejected players sorted out properly.

The 2 ejections bring the league total to 20 this year, including preseason.

Matt Holmquist
Sun Dec 31 • 7:57 pm EDT


Deep wing mechanics provide great vision on two touchdowns

Saints at Buccaneers (video) and Cardinals at Seahawks (video).

Often times the perception is that deep wings need to “beat everyone to the goal line” or “have their feet glued to the goal line.” In two instances in the late games today, deep wing officials improved their position to make tough and correct rulings on catches and touchdowns.

As Chris Goodwin pulled in a catch and ran into the end zone with 9 seconds remaining in the game to win, field judge John Jenkins slowed down and increased his depth off of the sideline to get a better view of the catch and pylon. His adjustment gave him a better perspective of potential contact and the touchdown.

With about 10 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter in Seattle, Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin snagged a toe-touch catch in the end zone. Side judge James Coleman realized that the goal line would not be threatened, planted his feet, and followed the play to ensure that Baldwin completed the process of a catch before calmly signaling a touchdown.

Ben Austro
Sun Dec 31 • 6:36 pm EDT


Beat the clock

Panthers at Falcons (video). The Falcons attempted to spike the ball at the conclusion of the first half, but referee Bill Vinovich announced that the time in the quarter had expired. The clock is reviewable, but only when the margin is at least 2 seconds; this was deliberately done to avoid parsing down microseconds, but rather to capture the obvious clock situations. From the ground-level view with the scoreboard in the background, the spike clearly hits the ground with 1 second remaining on the clock, so replay cannot intervene.

So the Falcons got robbed? Not exactly.

The offense has not set for a full second, as the offensive tackle gets set, then the tight end moves back to get into a legal position. When the tight end sets, there is 1 second on the clock, and the Falcons therefore cannot have a legal snap. This would be a 10-second runoff if enforced, however, this foul cannot be assessed in replay.

Ben Austro
Sun Dec 31 • 6:01 pm EDT


Own-fumble touchdown

Raiders at Chargers (video). Chargers running back Melvin Gordon is hit and fumbles the ball. Receiver Keenan Allen is able to “Snake” his way in to grab the ball in midair, and the defense doesn’t have a “Ghost” of a chance to catch him. It may have been holy, but it definitely didn’t roll, and the Chargers are legally allowed to advance the ball, since it is not fourth down or after the 2:00 warning.

It looks like the fumble goes backward, but even a forward-fumble recovery is permitted. If there was a determination that Allen deliberately fumbled the ball, it would be a call as to whether it is a backward or forward pass.

Patrick Weber
Sun Dec 31 • 5:26 pm EDT


Fair catch interference in Atlanta

Panthers at Falcons (video). During the second quarter, the Falcons were called for fair catch interference when they punted to the Panthers. Although it does appear that the Falcons gunner tried to get out of the way and the returner moved slightly into him, it is on the defender to give the returner an unimpeded route to the football.

Patrick Weber
Sun Dec 31 • 5:22 pm EDT


Saints score on fake kick return

Saints at Buccaneers (video). During the first quarter, the Saints’ Alvin Kamara fielded a kickoff in the endzone. He then slowed down as if he was going to take a knee before accelerating and returning the kick for a touchdown. There is nothing in the rules that prevents a returner from that action, and it is on the kicking team (and the officials) to not fall for the fake.

Ben Austro
Sun Dec 31 • 4:59 pm EDT


Communication breakdown, intentional grounding

Jets at Patriots (video). Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throws the ball deep to unoccupied territory on the field, drawing an intentional grounding flag. The elements of the foul are all there: (1) Brady drops straight back, so he’s clearly in the pocket, and doesn’t have the exception to reach the line of scrimmage. (2) Brady is under, as the rule states, “an imminent loss of yardage because of pressure from the defense.” Note that it’s not immediate, so the Jets players in proximity to the quarterback are enough to check this requirement off. This is rarely a consideration. (3) There is no receiver in the area of the pass. Officials do not consider that a receiver ran the wrong route, only that the receiver is in the area. While a quarterback is given a fair amount of deference to throw the ball 20 rows deep into the lower deck, as long as it generally goes over the head of a receiver, in this case there is no receiver to have over/underthrown.

Ben Austro
Sun Dec 31 • 4:04 pm EDT


Unsafe safety

Bears at Vikings (video). Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is about to be sacked and throws the most unusual backhanded pass that looked like he was a teenager trying to slyly discard contraband.

In the end zone with his back to the goal line, Trubisky shovels the ball which is ruled intentional grounding. The play was reviewed, and there were two potential elements: was the ball fumbled and was it a safety. While the throw was unconventional, it is clearly a forward pass, but if the ball was bumped out by a defender, the Vikings would get credit for the immediate recovery inside the 5. As to whether it was a safety, the spot of a foul is a reviewable element. Since Trubisky brought the ball into his end zone and the ball did not completely exit the end zone when the pass was released, the foul spot is in the end zone, and the safety is confirmed.

Our partner site, Quirky Research, has a list of every safety scored, including this one and (currently) 2 others in games today.

Ben Austro
Sun Dec 31 • 3:03 pm EDT


Punt return fake

Bears at Vikings (video). The Bears have tried this before with Johnny Knox in 2011 — although a flag wiped out that play — and today they were able to score the touchdown.

The Bears had two receivers deep for a punt, but faked out the Vikings as to which player was fielding the kick. Bryce Hamilton was able to make a catch and had a clear lane to the end zone. If either player had signaled a fair catch, the play would be dead immediately. 

Ben Austro
Sun Dec 31 • 2:27 pm EDT


Early game snoozers

In an effort to keep teams with mutual playoff interests in the same time window, the 9 early games have very few playoff implications. The Vikings are looking to secure the #2 seed and the first-round bye, and the Patriots and Steelers will decide who is #1 and #2 in the AFC (both have secured the first-round bye).

However, for the officiating crews, there are playoff implications in all games — their own postseason assignments. Every weekend counts, although as a practical matter, I think the playoff assignments are already written in pencil. It’s possible that an official who is on the cusp of a particular tier could go up or down, or if there is a major controversy, be removed from the playoffs. Another thing the officiating department is looking at is physical fitness. If the season is taking a physical toll on even the best official, it can be reason to move an official to a playoff alternate.

Mark Schultz
Sun Dec 31 • 1:43 pm EDT


Breaking the plane

Jets at Patriots (video). Down judge Jim Mello makes a great goal line call as the ball just breaks the plane for a touchdown.

Mark Schultz
Sun Dec 31 • 1:38 pm EDT


Cold weather precautions

Redskins at Giants (video). The temperature is on the low double-digits today making for cold and miserable conditions. NFL officials have many tricks to stay warm, but multiple layers can make it hard for officials to keep pace on long plays. 

Before a brutally cold game, officials will take extra time to stretch out to stay loose and avoid pulled muscle injuries.

Mark Schultz
Sun Dec 31 • 1:24 pm EDT


Be ready at all times

Packers at Lions (video). The Packers open the game with an onside kick. It is very likely that the Packers’ coaching staff alerted the officials that the onside kick was coming. 


Ben Austro
Sun Dec 31 • 1:07 pm EDT


Today’s officials

Week 17 referee assignments

2017 officiating crews

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