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Officiating Dept. Video

Officiating video: contact on the quarterback, illegal touching, and when a fumble isn’t a fumble

In his next video installment, senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron highlighted three categories of plays from last week’s action, in order to explain some complex and controversial rulings.



In his next video installment, senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron highlighted three categories of plays from last week’s action, in order to explain some complex and controversial rulings.

Contacting the quarterback

In a few different plays regarding contact on passing, scrambling, and sliding quarterbacks, Riveron detailed what acts constitute a foul, which are legal plays, as well as a flag that was thrown that should not have been. In the first play, from Bills-Titans, a Tennessee defender was flagged for illegal contact to a sliding quarterback. During the quarterback’s slide and after he gave himself up, the defender forcibly contacted him with his hands and pushed him into the ground. This is a foul for unnecessary roughness, and a flag was thrown on this play by first-year referee Brad Rogers.

In another play, from Bears-Raiders in London, referee Tony Corrente threw a flag on an Oakland defender for roughing the passer. Riveron explained that the defender’s initial contact was legal: he wrapped the quarterback around the waist, kept his head to the side, and avoided the head and neck area and below the knees. However, while bringing the quarterback to the ground, he landed on him with full body weight. This alone constitutes a foul for roughing the passer, so Corrente was correct on this play. Riveron also pointed out that although the defender tried to brace himself to avoid this unnecessary contact, he had already landed on the quarterback illegally.

In contrast, Riveron showed a play from the Falcons-Texans game where a defender avoided landing on the quarterback with full body weight, keeping the flag in the referee’s pocket. The Houston defender was bringing the quarterback to the ground, but before hitting the ground, he put his forearm out to brace for the contact to ease up on the quarterback and not completely land on him. This is one of a few different ways to avoid that illegal hit.

In the last play from this category, in a play from Packers-Cowboys, a scrambling quarterback was hit in the head while running, and that defender who slapped the head of the quarterback was flagged for roughing the passer. Riveron explained that this was not a foul, as the hit was not forcible, but incidental.

Illegal touching

Generally, when an eligible receiver voluntarily goes out of bounds and re-establishes in bounds and then is the first person to touch a pass or kick, it is a foul for illegal touching. On a punt play from Vikings-Giants, a member of the kicking team went out of bounds and came back in and had the potential to down the punt inside the five-yard line, but instructed a teammate to do so instead. Riveron explained that the heads-up decision by that player to back away from the punt was smart in doing so, as it would have been a foul for illegal touching of a kick if he had been the first to touch the ball after re-establishing from being out of bounds.

On a pass play from Colts-Chiefs, a receiver was hindered by a defender, prompting a flag for defensive pass interference from field judge Terry Brown, and then caught the ball. However, the possibility that the receiver stepped out of bounds then came under discussion on the play. Riveron explained that it was not clear and obvious that the receiver stepped out of bounds, as it isn’t clear to see if his heels were out of bounds, or hovering over the sideline. In any event, if the receiver had stepped out of bounds as a result of the defensive pass interference on the play, he is legally allowed to be the first person to touch the ball, provided he re-establishes in bounds with both feet or another body part.

When a fumble is not a fumble in replay

On the last play of the video, Riveron chose to discuss a play from the Buccaneers-Saints game, where on a punt, the punt returned possessed, and subsequently fumbled the ball. The ruling on the field, however, was that the returner was down by contact prior to the ball becoming loose. In replay following a challenge by Tampa Bay, it was determined that the runner did fumble the ball, but there is no angle provided by the television network to Art McNally Gameday Central that shows a clear and obvious recovery by either team. In order to win a challenge of this nature, there must be a clear and obvious fumble as well as a clear and obvious recovery. So, since there actually was a fumble on this play, the ruling on the field of down by contact stood, as there was no clear recovery to completely satisfy the requirements of a replay reversal.


Cam Filipe is a forensic scientist and has been involved in football officiating for 12 years. Cam is in his fourth season as a high school football official. This is his ninth season covering NFL officiating for Football Zebras.

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