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Mechanics or communication? Something broke on the MNF blocked field goal

Week 14: Vikings at Seahawks

Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner blocked a Minnesota Vikings field goal in the second half of their game Monday night, with the game still in the balance. That play swung momentum to the Seahawks, and they never relinquished it. Problem is, Wagner fouled on the play and the Vikings should have kept the ball after a penalty enforcement.

For years, the defense was prohibited from running forward, leaping over the line of scrimmage, and landing on players in an attempt to block the kick. Last year, this was revised to prohibit any run and leap by a defensive player off the line, regardless of contact, but stationary players on the line could leap over the line. Wagner was on the line of scrimmage so there was no leaping foul.

This year, the NFL modified the existing rule using teammates or an opponent as leverage to bust through the line. Wagner was guilty of violating the new aspect of leverage rule. Rule 12-3-1(p) lists this as one of the unsportsmanlike conduct fouls related to kick defense, with the new language in 2018 underlined:

Placing a hand or hands on a teammate or opponent to gain additional height to block or attempt to block an opponent’s kick or apparent kick, or in an attempt to jump through a gap to block an opponent’s kick or apparent kick.

This would not mean any touch of another player with the hand that is incidental is a foul, rather if the placement of the hand assists the jump up or through the line.

So, how the officials miss this? Along with the new rule change this year, the NFL added a new mechanic. The NFL positioned the umpire in the offensive backfield on scoring kicks. On scoring kicks last year, the umpire and side judge lined up behind the defensive line to judge leverage, formation and holding fouls.

This year, the side judge is by himself.

On the Wagner play, umpire Ruben Fowler threw a flag and side judge Eugene Hall talked him off of the flag. Fowler called a leaping foul. By rule, Wagner didn’t leap  so Hall was correct on part one of this play.

But why didn’t Hall or Fowler or the rest of Brad Allen’s crew follow-through, hash it out, and rule Wagner guilty of leverage? Did they forget the rule? Fowler knew something was wrong or else he wouldn’t have thrown the flag. Fowler may not have been able to see the leverage, and Hall must not have seen it either.

This is one play where the double umpire position might have gotten the call right. The umpire and side judge could have split the defensive line in two and had eyes on fewer people and a better chance to see the foul.  

No matter if it was a mechanics gap or a communication gap, this was a disappointing miss at a critical moment in the game. Regardless of the reason, this must be called correctly on the field.

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Mark Schultz
Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"

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4 thoughts on “Mechanics or communication? Something broke on the MNF blocked field goal

  1. This crap has to stop. It’s just plain incompetence!

    Ultimately, a terrible job by Brad Allen. As the white hat, how do you not have a discussion to fix this situation? It was a pivotal point and play.

    Kudos to Ruben Fowler for making the call.

    Terrible job to Allen for allowing the SJ Hall (who is not even on the crew normally) to override the call. Allen deserves a serious penalty. He may have cost the Vikings a playoff berth. Unforgivable. Oh, and why was Brad Allen moved to the white hat position right from college? The more I see of this guy, the less I am impressed. How did that happen?

    Allen and the SJ deserve the Armen Terzian treatment from the Vikings faithful.

  2. Brad Allen went straight from College Referee to NFL Referee because of Mike Carey’s unexpected retirement. He was actually supposed to be Carey’s U, but then Carey retired. The NFL was in a position that they had used up the officials that they were comfortable promoting because of the departure of Scott Green and Ron Winter. I guess they could have promoted someone like John Hussey and let Brad Allen become the U on a different crew, but the other crews had started preparation for the upcoming season and the league didn’t want to inconvenience all of that. It was not as easy as replacing Hussey with a rookie because the league may have had a lower rated HL paired with Hussey because he was a strong LJ and they would not have wanted to put a rookie in that situation. Not to mention, since Allen was a rookie, they would not want to pair him with a first year Referee. The NFL basically kept Carey’s crew as intact as possible with a couple of swaps because the NFL didn’t want Allen to be stuck with officials who would be difficult for a rookie R, let alone a rookie NFL official to work with.

  3. So the line judge made a call that leverage was not attained. He would have seen, from the side, additional elevation gained from hand placement by Wagner and it looks like he didn’t see that gain. Plus he was so confident in his call he convinced the umpire that it did not happen. Incidental contact with the hands would not qualify.

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