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Surprise onside kick by Titans is waved off by Jedi mind trick

The Titans looked to capitalize on some inattention on the Rams special teams by doing a hurry-up onside kick. The kick was voided and time put back on the clock.



Week 16: Rams at Titans (video)

The Titans looked to capitalize on some inattention on the Rams special teams by doing a hurry-up onside kick. There was a great deal of confusion from Walt Anderson’s crew, but in the end the kick was voided and time put back on the clock. Prior to seeing any video, this was my first impression of how the play should be handled hearing it described, but there are some lingering question marks. Some key details are not discernible from the video, because the TV network was also caught by surprise, as they were reviewing the AFC playoff picture when the kick occurred.

Update: Jason Wolf of The Tennessean confirmed with the league office what we surmised the situation to be: that the Rams were told that there would be a television commercial break prior to the kickoff, rather than a 40-second official’s timeout. The Rams were not on the field for the kickoff due to the erroneous information. Since it is highly unlikely that the Titans would have encountered this fortuitous situation otherwise, nothing was lost when the crew backtracked and ordered a rekick.

The original post continues below.

As a general matter, there is no such thing as a “hurry-up” onside kick in the same manner there would be on an offensive snap. Following a score, and if the network does not go to commercial, the 40-second clock runs for the gap before the kickoff. The back judge is then responsible for handing the kicking ball to the kicker and winding the 25-second play clock. This does not mean that the kicking team may kick at any time; rather the back judge has to assume a position at the sideline. Then, the referee will signal that the ball is ready to be put into play, with the target being that 10 seconds will be left on the play clock at the kick. (The crew does not call a delay foul right away if the offense doesn’t get those 10 seconds.)

This means that the receiving team and the network should not be caught off guard that a kick is about to take place. Since the play clock was not shown on TV, we can’t pin this down as to exactly what happened.

Somewhere in sorting this out, it was determined by the crew that the Rams called timeout, which both sidelines protested. It is possible that a timeout call came in from the Rams sideline at the last moment to save the team, but then a protest ensued regarding the timing of the kick, allowing the timeout to be restored. The umpire and the field judge work the 35- and 45-yard lines on the Rams sideline, and would have made the call.

So, after announcing a Rams timeout, Anderson backtracked and said there was no kick. This means that either, (1) he never made the signal or the kicker started before the signal was made, (2) he decided he made the signal in error too early or if some other extenuating circumstance made the ball not ready for play. In either case, it is appropriate to restore the timeout, since the intent was to prevent the kick which is now being considered to be before the ready signal.

This means it is a null kick, not an illegal kick, and so the time is restored as if the first kick never happened. This happened to Bills kicker Brad Daluiso in Super Bowl XXVI on the opening kickoff, and referee Jerry Markbreit ordered a rekick.

Never addressed was a penalty flag that came from the side judge (initially positioned at the 45). That flag was picked up with no explanation.

One theory that may explain all that happened: the Rams sideline may have been told there was a television timeout, causing them to be late getting to the field for the kickoff. The Titans may have kicked at the typical play clock time, and the network was lax because the Rams were not in place. After piecing this together following the Rams timeout, the crew realized that it can’t fault the team that relied on bad information. Therefore, the appropriate and equitable measure is to declare the ball was not ready, void the kickoff, and restore the timeout.

The tl;dr is that this probably was called right, but it looked too damn sloppy in getting there.

Photo: Donn Jones/Tennessee Titans

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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