Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

20 Sep 2005

Patriots Coach Explains Questionable Call

I know I wasn't the only one surprised that Bill Belichick didn't challenge Stephen Davis' first touchdown on Sunday when it appeared that he had fumbled before reaching the goal line. According to Belichick, he didn't challenge the call because of what he feels is the misguided NFL policy to not have cameras at either side of the goal line. Without such cameras, it appears that Belichick thinks it's a waste of time to make most goal line challenges. Why doesn't the NFL have goal line cameras? It makes too much sense not to do.

Posted by: Al Bogdan on 20 Sep 2005

81 comments, Last at 26 Sep 2005, 3:31am by marc


by Steelersin06 (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 12:54pm

I am not so sure about the camera thing, it seemed pretty clear to me that SD was not in the end zone. But it was a first down play so even if the Patriots win the challenge it is 2nd and goal from inside the one. Seems like a smart time to not challenge.

by Johonny (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 12:54pm

While Bill makes a good point... he did look to be a good foot short of the endzone.

by B (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 1:15pm

Lack of cameras notwithstanding, I think this is one of the dumbest rules in football. A player, stretching for an extra yard, holds the ball out, unprotected, the ball touches the ground, then bounces loose, but it's not a fumble? I know the ground can't cause a fumble, but there should be an exception to that rule when the ball hits the ground before the runner is downed. Also, a player should be required to have control of the football for a touchdown to count.

by SJM (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 1:29pm


This is my understanding of the ground-fumble rule: The ground cannot cause a fumble because if the ball touches the ground while in posession of a player, the ball is considered downed regardless of whether the player himself is down.

Since a player cannot touch the ball to the ground, then pick it up and keep running, he also cannot touch the ball to the ground and then fumble it.

This is maybe the most misunderstood rule in football, on par with the tuck rule and leading with the head on a tackle.

by King Kaufman (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 1:31pm

I actually think "the ground cannot cause a fumble" is a stupid rule. Why not? The ground can cause an incompletion. It seems to me that hitting the ground is part of being tackled. You should have to maintain possession upon hitting the ground, just as you do with a pass. Not only would that make the rules consistent with each other, but it would be a logical rule that follows what those of us who played football as kids feel intuitively is a fumble. Or, in John Madden's words, "if you fumble the ball, it should be a doggone fumble."

by William Barry (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 1:33pm

I agreee something should be done to
improve contraversial calls near the endzone.Also the player should have
control of the ball at all times.What
happened to that rule??????End zone
cameras each side and an arieal shot,
however you want to do it....just make
it happen.Feel free to send this to the
nfl commish and rules commitee.Thanks
for your time....a big football fan

by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 1:36pm

Are you sure about that? Wasn't there a kickoff a couple years ago where the player faked a knee in the endzone and placed the ball on the ground and then got up and ran it back for a touchdown?

I don't think the ball hitting the ground means it's down, in fact I think a lot of times a ground can cause a fumble. Maybe people should start saying "Ground can't cause a fumble when a player is getting tackled"?

What about Kyle Orton's season killing fumble last year for Purdue against Wisconsin?

by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 1:37pm

I'm prepared to let BB off the hook here. To me this just illustrates the stupidity of having a challenge system, which forces coaches to gamble with timeouts if they don't agree with a call.
I think the Davis play was close enough that the official could have said the nose of the ball was just over, or there isn't sufficient evidence to overturn. Then the Pats have needlessly used up a timeout.
We should revert back to the officials calling the game, instead of making it the coaches responsibility to have close plays reviewed.

by Oswlek (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 2:03pm

What I have not heard anyone talk about (except Skip Bayless amazingly enough) is that there were other plays that could/should have been challenged.

* On Brady's fumble, his arm had just begun moving forward. It was close enough to let the play run on in real time, but I think a review would have over turned it. And it was only a 3 point game at that time.

* Proehl had a sideline catch that wasn't. He got one leg in, but didn't get either a foot or knee down in bounds before his butt hit the ground out of bounds. It was close, but it was certainly questionable.

It almost appeared as if BB took a preseason approach to this game. A "well, let's see what we can do in this situation" style of management.

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 2:15pm

Re: 7

My understanding of the rule is the same as yours.

Re: 8

For a bunch of reasons, I'm not a fan of replay. One of the reasons is that it's apparent that officials are now slower to blow their whistles (several commentators have noted this, though generally in a positive way), figuring if they get it wrong they can correct it with replay. This of course, requires the coaches to gamble with their timeouts. More importantly, IMO, in many cases the video is ultimately inconclusive resulting in a clearly different outcome with no more confidence in the 'correctness' of the call.

by RCK (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 2:25pm

My understanding of the fumble rule is that the ground CAN cause a fumble IF the ball carrier is not tackled (brought down or touched by a defender). If the ball carrier is down then the play is over and the fact the ball comes loose after he hits the ground is irrelevant. If the player falls down but was not tackled or touched and the ball comes loose then the play is not over and it is a live fumble.

In college, where a ball carrier can be down without being tackled or touched, the ground cannot cause a fumble.

by SJM (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 2:49pm

Thanks for the correction. Yes, the ground CAN cause a fumble IF the player with posession was NOT contacted by a player on the other team, just like how a player with the ball may kneel or roll on the ground but is not down until he is contacted (unlike college).

The gist of my original post still stands though. The reason those plays are not considered fumbles is because if any body part of the player with posession other than his feet and hands touches the ground while being tackled, OR IF THE BALL TOUCHES THE GROUND while he is being tackled, he is down, the play is dead and there is no possibility of further advancing the ball or fumbling it.

It is still one of the most misunderstood rules in football.

by jcd (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 3:12pm


Does it matter if brady's arm was going forward? the ball ended up going behind him so isn't it a loose ball regardless?

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 3:15pm

Re: #12

So in short form what you're saying is that for the purposes of a player being ruled down by contact, the ball is considered part of the player's body?

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 3:17pm

Re: #9 and #13

For what it's worth, the crowd I was watching with (hearty Pats fans all) thought it was a good call. To me it looked like the ball came out just before Brady's hand started moving forward.

Now, in the post-game press conference, Brady talked about some "open hand" rule that the officials took the time to stress in training camp. Anyone know what that is?

by Oswlek (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 3:20pm


I heard the same thing said on the postgame by Zolak, but I believe it is incorrect. My understanding is that it is irrelevent where the ball goes if it is batted by a defender. The backwards throw only applies to intentional laterals.

If I am wrong feel free to correct me.

by King Kaufman (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 3:25pm

It is still one of the most misunderstood rules in football.

And, not coincidentally, one of the worst.

by SJM (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 3:28pm

Re: #14

If my understanding of the rules is correct (I tried to confirm but have been unable to get ahold of an official rulebook), then yes.

by Dennis (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 3:38pm

Re #5: I actually think “the ground cannot cause a fumble� is a stupid rule. Why not? The ground can cause an incompletion. It seems to me that hitting the ground is part of being tackled. You should have to maintain possession upon hitting the ground, just as you do with a pass. Not only would that make the rules consistent with each other, but it would be a logical rule that follows what those of us who played football as kids feel intuitively is a fumble. Or, in John Madden’s words, “if you fumble the ball, it should be a doggone fumble.�

The play is ended when the ball carrier hits the ground. You're saying you should be able to fumble the ball after the play is dead. That makes no sense.

Your comparison to catching a pass is totally off base. The receiver has to establish possession of the ball - a runner already has established possession.

by jeff (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 3:43pm

re:Davis TD

I think that the Pats made a mistake not challenging this play. Worst case, the call is upheld and you loose a timeout. Big deal, timeouts are not all that important in the first half. Best case, you hold them for a couple of plays and force a FG. Or maybe even a turnover. I definately think the potential rewards far out weigh the risk, IMO.

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 3:53pm

I can live with the non-challenges of the Davis thing (personally, I think that even if the fumble had stood, Carolina recovered in the endzone anyways, or if not that, they would have had it at the 1cm line and would have scored anyway) or the Brady fumble (which I think was a correct call).

But not challenging the Proehl "catch" and especially not challenging the Watson fumble perplex me. Sure, it was unlikely the Watson fumble would be overturned, but losing the ball at that point meant losing the game, so why wouldn't you challenge it?? It's not like unused timeouts and challenges carry into the next game.

[I also think the "gamble with timeouts" rule is silly. At a minimum, change it to "two challenges per game, and you get a 3rd if you get the first two right" -- like it is now, but without involving timeouts]

by WeaponX (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 3:54pm

If he wasn't in, he was down when the ball touched the turf. At any rate we saw the reality of how effective the Pats were in keeping him out in other goal line situations later in the game.

by Carl (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 4:02pm

I think the play demonstrated, once and for all, that Manning is better than Brady.

by SJM (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 4:03pm


The reason a lost challenge costs a timeout is so that coaches don't use their challenges on obvious plays as a free extra timeout. A timeout can be far more valuable than a challenge, so in certain circumstances coaches wouldn't hesitate to give up a challenge if it meant they could stop the clock and keep their timeouts.

This is the same reason teams are sometimes charged with a timeout when a player is injured. If they were not, players would fake injury to stop the clock (and sometimes they still do).

by WeaponX (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 4:05pm

I don't know Carl, Manning looked lost on that 70ish yard(after the catch)completion early in the game.. I think Brady showed once again that he's got the intangibles that Manning jr. lacks.

by bsr (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 4:09pm

What is amazing to me is that people still don't give Belichick the benefit of the doubt that he may actually know what he is doing. That is not to say that he is infallable, but if he does something that is contrary to our initial impressions shouldn't we for the most part question our own knowledge before we question his? I for one, believe he has earned that. Afterall, who's football knowledge do you trust more? Bill Belichick or Skip Bayless. For me this is a no brainer.

As for why he didn't challenge any of the calls, it could be a number of reasons. My impressions from what he has said in press conferences:

Smith none-TD: Not enough evidence based on camera angles to support it being overturned.

Brady fumble: It is some sort of "open hand" rule that I am not completely familiar with.

Watson fumble: Don't know haven't heard it asked.

by MJK (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 4:19pm

Hmmmm, I wonder if Bellichek didn't challenge any of the questionable calls because he wanted his team to win or lose based on how they played, not on what the refs said. Maybe with the young players the team is getting sloppy and cocky, and he figured that if they played badly and lost because of it, it might motivate them to actually get some discipline. Remember, with the exception of the Buffalo game to open the 03 season, they have all talked about how a loss motivates them to work harder and have followed it with at least 6 or 7 straight wins.

In the grand scheme of things, looking at the Pats schedule this year, if you're going to lose a game, this is the one to lose (a non-conference game early in the season).

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 4:21pm

Re: #24

Hmm. Ok, then have the rules state that if the ruling on field was such that the clock would continue to run absent the challenge, a challenge will result in 25 seconds being taken off the clock unless the coach elects to forfeit a timeout.

That way early in a half a coach can take a risk on a challenge without having to worry about losing a timeout, but late in a half he can't use challenges as freebie timeouts.

by Ray (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 4:21pm

RE: Replay in general

Personally, I'd rather that officials get corrected when they make a bad call. They're human, it happens. I'm interested in as accurate a game as possible, one where the chances of a game being decided by a bad call are minimal. I think any negatives of replay are well worth the benifit it brings in letting the play on the field decide the game rather than an official with poor judgment.

RE: Ground not causing fumble

As someone mentioned above, the moment the ball-carrier is down (any part of body besides hands and feet, including the ball) then the play is over. If the ground were able to cause a fumble, it would mean the play is still alive after the ball-carrier is down. In this situation, when should the play be stopped? It would be an arbitrary determination, rather than a hard demarcation. Not good, I think.

RE: Failed Challenges using Time Outs

When a play is challenged, play and the game clock must stop to give time for the challenge, which is in effect a time out. If there were no timeouts on the line, at the end of the game two challenges would be in effect time outs because a coach can call them on a play that he knows would not be overturned just to force the ref over to the replay booth. The game clock would stop, giving the offence a chance to regroup and slow the game down without having to spend a time out.

Also, without something important on the line, a coach could take more risks with the challenges becuase they'd have nothing to lose. You'd run into the situation where every game could be stopped for slim-chance challenges just because coaches know they can't hang onto them if they don't use them. Then everyone would be complaining about how many times the game has to stop for several minutes while these challenges are worked out.

As it is, coachs will probably err on the side of letting the play go unchallenged, which is what would have happened if there was no replay at all. Sounds pretty fair to me.

by Ray (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 4:26pm

RE: #28

That's still probably at least a minute of extra time the offence has to regroup and settle down. I'm betting there are times when a coach would gladly sacrifice even 25 seconds to give himself and the offence time to come up with a good play.

by King Kaufman (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 4:32pm

If the ground were able to cause a fumble, it would mean the play is still alive after the ball-carrier is down. In this situation, when should the play be stopped? It would be an arbitrary determination, rather than a hard demarcation. Not good, I think.

Then we disagree. I think having officials make judgment calls is just fine. They do it on pass receptions, for example.

People seem to be defending the idea that the play stops the NANOSECOND a hair on the player's arm touches the ground as though that were the only logical or proper way the rule could be written. Where does the play stop? When the ballcarrier hits the ground and maintains possession, in the same way he would have had to if it were a pass he were trying to catch.

The rules used to say that a ballcarrier wasn't down until you tackled him and KEPT him down. Used to be, you got tripped up on a shoestring tackle, you could bounce up and keep running. I'm not advocating a return to that -- in that scenario, the ground would obviously be able to cause a fumble -- I'm just saying the way the rule works now isn't the only possible way, or necessarily a good way. I don't think it is.

by Vern (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 4:33pm

The NFL rule digest is linked. It's not real clear here, but the phrase between hypens "-- with posession of the ball --" is the source of the so called "open hand" rule. Basically, if your hand comes forward "open", meaning without posession (aka control) of the ball, then the forward motion is irrelevant since you already lost posession. The officials go over this with QB's; warning them that if they see an "open hand" starting to go forward, then it will be a fumble. Also check Brady's quotes on the topic ar wwww.boston.com (check Reiss' Pieces Patriots blog).

by King Kaufman (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 4:36pm

Also, I don't get what you guys are saying about coaches using challenges as timeouts. If a coach wanted a timeout, why wouldn't he just call one, rather than challenging a play he knows won't be overturned? By challenging, he loses a timeout AND a challenge. Why not keep the challenge and just call time.

Also, you can't challenge if you don't have timeouts left, so you can't save challenges for the end of the half to use as timeouts.

Am I misreading something? I can't think of a scenario where a coach would use a challenge to get a timeout rather than just calling a timeout.

by Vern (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 4:36pm

BTW, it was this same rule that led Wilfork's "INT" against the Raiders to be correctly changed to a fumble recovery. Though Collins hand was going forward, it was "open" thus triggering the open hand rule - no pass.

It would have been great to see the ruling play out had Wilfork not caught the ball in the air. Gotta love Raiders conspiracy talk.

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 4:37pm

Re: #33

Keep up with the discussion, King :). The posts you are referring to are discussing an alternate universe NFL where challenges are decoupled from timeouts.

by B (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 5:14pm

I love the theory that Bellicheck porpusfully didn't challenge the calls cause he wanted his team to lose, thus motivating them against Pittsburgh, that's just a wonderful conspiracy theory. As far as I can tell, Bellicheck didn't challenge the calls because he was reasonabally sure he wasn't going to win them anyways. The Davis touchdown was a close call, but I didn't see indisputable evidence, and we know the camera angles were worse than the angles the refs actually had. Brady's fumble was clearly a fumble, as was Watson's.

by Daniel Scott (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 5:19pm

I am almost positive that the announcers misinterpreted the Stephen Davis play at the goalline. After Davis fumbles you can see the official running up the goalline making no signal. Only after a Carolina lineman was clearly in possession of the ball in the end zone does the ref signal TD. Granted the box score credits the TD to Davis, but I'm pretty sure the ref had something else in mind.

by Neptune1 (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 5:26pm

If Belichick was trying to send some kind of message by not challenging the plays, then it was certainly an odd message: "You better not be the victim of any questionable calls out there, because if you are, I'm not going to do anything about it." What kind of motivational tool is that? Plus, weren't all the Pats D players kind of questioning BB on that one? Maybe the Pats D needs to read Post 26 and get their head on straight!

by Dennis (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 5:30pm

Re #31: People seem to be defending the idea that the play stops the NANOSECOND a hair on the player’s arm touches the ground as though that were the only logical or proper way the rule could be written. Where does the play stop? When the ballcarrier hits the ground and maintains possession, in the same way he would have had to if it were a pass he were trying to catch.

It's not the only way the rule could be written, but it's the way that makes the most sense. You need a specific action to end the play.

Under your idea, how long would the runner have to maintain posession? 1 second? 5 seconds? Just saying "maintains possession" is open to all kinds of interpretation.

by dryheat (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 5:46pm

The way I read Belichick's explanation (not the Fox article but his press conference exerpted below)was that he didn't challenge because neither he nor the people upstairs could see a replay with a view of the goalline. In other words, they were restricted to what was put on the replay screen. To me, that's very troubling, a whole new aspect of home-field advantage. I think coaches should be allowed the same tools the Referee does when reviewing the play.

Courtesy of Mike Reiss' Blog in the Boston Globe:
Head coach Bill Belichick held his Monday press conference at 11:45 a.m. EDT and one of the hot topics of discussion was instant replay and challenging calls such as Carolina running back Stephen Davis’ 1-yard touchdown in the first quarter.

“The only thing I can see is the play and whatever is up on the big screen (on replay),� Belichick said.
As for what the coaching staff might see from up high in the press box, he said: “whatever they feed (to television) they have in the booth. It goes to both (teams). You can’t request anything. Whatever they put up there, you watch. If it’s not up there, you don’t see it. There is nothing you can do about it.�

by mactbone (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 5:52pm

Both teams get the TV replays and those will always get to the right angles quicker than a big board. As to home field advantage, I went to a few Colts games last year and I couldn't believe how many times they wouldn't show a replay on the jumbotron for a questionable call - ones that could've gone in the Colts favor. I think the people that run those things must be clueless.

by DavidH (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 6:03pm


If an offensive player fumbles the ball, and his own teammate recovers it ahead of where he fumbled, the fumbling team gets possession at the spot of the fumble, not the spot of the recovery. This is to prevent the ol' fumblerooskie, where you purposely fumbled the ball forward to a teammate in loo of a forward pass. Good example of this in the Jets game Sunday. Martin fumbled at the 1/2 yard line on 4th down, and Sowell recovered in the endzone. The Jets got all excited because they thought it was a touchdown. Instead, the Jets got possession at the 1/2 yard line, and then the ball was turned over on downs to Carolina.


Under your idea, how long would the runner have to maintain posession? 1 second? 5 seconds? Just saying "maintains possession" is open to all kinds of interpretation.

Isn't this the way they call pass receptions? Seems like if they leave maintaining possession open to interpretation on receptions, they ought to at least be open to doing the same on tackles.

Although for what it's worth, I like the rule as it is now - where the play is immediately over when any part touches.

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 6:15pm


When in the game did that happen? I thought the prohibition on anyone on offense but the fumbler advancing the ball only applies in the last two minutes of a half (to prevent another Raiders/Casper "holy roller" play).

by IzzionSona (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 6:18pm

I may be remembering incorrectly, but I thought the forward fumble rule was only in effect toward the end of either half, much like the clock-stopped on out of bounds rule...

by Off topic retard (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 6:34pm

I'm not a spelling freak, in fact I am a terrible speller, so this isn't a rip it's just an observation.

Do you think the mispelling of offense and defense as offence and defence is largely due to us seeing people in the crowd holding up a sign that says 'DE' and next to it a cut out of a picket fence? I do. Weird, huh?


by Vern (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 6:36pm

Re: 42 - 44

The rule applies at the end of the game/half, AND on any 4th down play.

by B (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 6:37pm

The "Fumble it forward" rule came into affect in the Jets/Miami game this week:

4-1-MIA 1 (5:03) NYJ #78 Goodwin eligible on the play. 28-C.Martin up the middle to MIA 1 for no gain. FUMBLES, recovered by NYJ-33-J.Sowell at MIA 1. Due to fourth down rule, the fumble can only be recovered by the player that fumbled. Therefore, the NYJ recovered at the MIA 1 yard line. MIA gets the ball due to Turnover on Downs.

So it only comes into play on 4th down or in the final two minutes?

by Ray (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 7:02pm

RE: #42 "Isn’t this the way they call pass receptions? Seems like if they leave maintaining possession open to interpretation on receptions, they ought to at least be open to doing the same on tackles."

Not in terms of the existing rules. When catching a forward pass, the determination for control is whether or not the ball hits the ground. When getting tackled it's whether the ball-carrier hits the ground.

It doesn't matter if a random player falls to the ground (is tackled) during the play. It only matters if the ball-carrier falls to the ground (is tackled) during the play. While in the process of trying to catch the ball, the reciever is still a 'random player' not in control of the ball. As long as the ball has not hit the ground, the play is still alive, no matter who is upright or laying down.

If you think that the definition of when a ball-carrier is considered down should be changed, that's fine. But what would you change it to? If you want to say, the play is live so long as the ball-carrier maintains possession of the ball through the tackle, then how would you define 'the tackle'? When is he done 'being tackled'?

by Countertorque (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 7:24pm

Any time you can make a rule depend on an objective piece of evidence, like the runner being down, that is far superior to subjective evidence, like the receiver having "possession."

Subjective evidence necessarily leads to interpretation, which necessarily leads to bad calls and causes the criteria to drift over time.

Another reason why subjective criteria are bad is that it's impossible to use slow motion replay to improve the accuracy. At what point, did "possession" occur, going frame by frame? It's entirely up to the viewer to decide. But, when the runner hit the ground, is very obvious and indisputable (assuming you have an angle that shows it).

In the case of receivers needing to show possession in order to count a catch, this rule was enacted for safety, which has priority over using objective criteria. The NFL perceived that WR's were getting lit up and injured just as they caught the ball so that the defense could force a fumble and recover. This is the same reason why it's illegal to hit a defenseless WR who is in the process of catching a ball.

If you allowed downed runners to fumble, you'd be increasing the number of defenders putting big hits on runners who were already down in an attempt to cause a fumble, after the play was really over. The downed runner might be held defenseless by other defenders. That sounds like it would lead to even more injuries, fights, and a general inability to know when the play actually ended.

by DavidH (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 7:52pm

Wow, I got basically nothing right. I must have had a stupid sandwich for lunch.

by Johonny (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 9:03pm

This was discused at the bar on sunday so I'll throw it out here. If the QB while throwing the ball is hit and the ball goes backwards is it a lateral? Specifically that is the hit takes place on the arm or body, not the ball itself. In the last two weeks I've seen this play happen and both times it was ruled a fumble, yet it seemed to me more of a backwards lateral.

by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 9:42pm

Johonny (#51 )--

A backward lateral *is* a fumble.

Regarding the use of challenges, in that game none of them seemed very likely to result in a useful overtun from the Patriots' stanpoint.

The Davis fumble, at best, gave Carolina second and goal, but was likely simply a touchdown after review since neither fourth-down nor end-of-half applied, and a Panther had recovered in the end zone. The Brady fumble seemd to be a clear case of the open-hand-going-foward rule. In both cases, the game was still close and Belichick had reason to save either the challenge or the timeout that would have been wasted.

The third challenge (Watson's fumble) was his best chance, since there was little to lose. Unfortunately, it was also the clearest on replay, that the original call was correct. For Belichick to challenge then, would essentially have been hoping that the ref would be awed by Belichick's reputation and reverse the call. Despite the low opinion some people have of game officials, they're usually not that bad.

by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 9:50pm

re #43: since the holy roller play has come up, can somebody explain to me why that play wasn't simply ruled an incomplete forward pass? I've seen a replay of the play, and Kenny Stabler is getting sacked and basically throws the ball underhand as far forward as he can (just like a shovel pass, which is always ruled as a forward pass). Seems like the correct call should have been an incompletion not a fumble.

re #13 and #16: apologies if somebody else answered this, but there are a lot of post here. If the arm is going forward it doesn't matter where the ball goes. This happened in the first Monday night game this season when Vick's arm was hit as he was about to pass and the ball went backwards about ten yards. The play was ruled a fumble, but the refs allowed a (unsuccessful) challenge that it should be an incompletion. They upheld the call of fumble because Vick's arm wasn't going forward, not because the ball went backwards.

by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 10:02pm

re #52: ..but a backwards forward pass is an incompletion. I know that sounds strange, but if the arm is going forward it doesn't matter where the ball goes (I think this is a dumb rule.)

I remember a 1998 Miami-Denver game where John Elway got hit as he was trying to throw and (this is hard to describe in words) his body got twisted around by the hit so that when he released the ball it went behind him. The refs ruled incomplete pass, and, although Jimmy Johnson had a huge shouting match with them about ruling a pass which went backwards as an incompletion, apparently that is the correct call. (Personally, I hate the arm-going-forward rule. I think the ball should have to be out of the QB's hand completely for it to be a pass. This would make life a lot simpler)

by Vern (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 11:23pm

It's interesting to note that the rules governing this are listed under the "Protection of Passer" section of the rules. The so called "open hand" rule and the now famous "tuck" rules are right there alongside roughing the QB rules. All are there because of the sense in the league that a passer is particularly vulnerable and needs protection (like a kicker).

Now, I'm not sure how the "open hand" and "tuck" rules achieve passer protection, but that's the section they are in. At least, this gives some indication of league intentions for having these rules.

by thad (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 12:37am

re 31
when did the rules ever say that?

by internet retard (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 1:20am

Hey guys I don't know what the rules actually are but they should change them and also the most successful coach in recent history sucks because he didn't do something trivial in one game so fire belichick and trade brady because I know how to win because I play madden and I like college football more than the nfl because college football is better because the players are worse overall and the overtime that goes on for ever is so awesome and pro players don't play with passion because i hate money

by internet retard redux (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 1:36am

Hey why don't I pretend like everybody on the thread is one person so if they say contradicting things I can make of fun of them and also I can make up things they didn't even say and make fun of them for that because I know how to post on an internet message board because I post on fark and the huge flame wars that go on forever are awesome because i hate numbers

by smithly barnsfield (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 1:49am

re: 58:
I think that was more of a parody of internet fans in general than this thread specifically, at least I hope so.
I have seen morons say the type of dumb stuff he mentions on other sites.
Mayve the guy is just an idiot but I didn't see it as an attack on these posters specifically.

by King Kaufman (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 2:08am

re 31
when did the rules ever say that?

Through 1954. In '55 the rule was changed to the current any part of the body other than hand or foot. Before that I think the rule was that you had to be down AND your forward progress stopped. So guys would get tackled but then keep crawling along, or even jump back up before the whistle blew.

This was a pretty damn good rule change, by the way. The old rule was a recipe for ballcarriers getting smeared on the ground to prevent further forward progress.

But it's pretty funny to watch old NFL film where a guy gets hit, goes down, pops back up and keeps right on running.

by marc (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 6:40am

bringing up 50 year old rule changes is kind of dumb since it just shows that the league has found the rule preferable in the modified form for 5 decades. Should we bring back the headslap, spearing, and mandatory two-way players while we're going to throwback rules?

by Eric (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 9:09am

The Pats played an abysmal game on Sunday- 12 penalties, no special teams coverage, dropped passes, Brady looking worse than Vick in the pocket, missed tackles. By not challenging the calls, Belichick may have been "saying" to his players "I'm not bailing you out of this game.You got yourselves into this mess, get yourselves out."

The bottom line is that no one call, decides a game. There are upwards of 120 plays (not including kicks) and collectively they determine the outcome. Not one incompletion or fumble.

by MDS (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 11:10am

"bringing up 50 year old rule changes is kind of dumb"

Calling an interesting discussion of the history of the game kind of dumb is kind of dumb. If you're only interested in what has happened in your lifetime, that's fine for you, but a lot of us love talking about the way the rules have evolved, so I encourage that discussion.

I once heard a fascinating radio interview with the oldest surviving former Michigan football player, and when he was asked what the biggest change in the game was since he played, without hesitating he said, "When I was playing you actually had to tackle a guy. Now you can just trip him." I don't remember the guy's name, and he was about 100 years old and the interview was about 10 years ago, so I assume he's no longer with us, but it was one of the best interviews I've ever heard. The interview was conducted by Mitch Albom, of all people.

Come to think of it, do you think Gerald Ford is the oldest surviving Michigan football player now?

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 12:27pm

Re: #63

Apropos of that, MDS, I think would be interesting to have an FO article or ramble about rules change history and/or the existence or application of various obscure rules (like when was the last dropkick attempt? Or the last FG scored from a fair catch free kick? Or points awarded for a "palpably unfair act"?)

by mactbone (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 12:27pm

Re 54:
That makes sense except I know that if a screen pass goes backwards it's considered a fumble. So, if the QB actually faces backwards it is a pass and if the QB faces any other direction it can be a pass or fumble?

It seems a little unclear.

by Dan Riley (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 12:37pm

Hey, Parker, let me play Off Topic Retard with you (although we really should be doing this over at the Sports Guy's site). You could be right...could be all those picket fences are causing people on the board to spell offense and defense as offence and defence. Then again, they could all be Brits and spelling the words as they were taught in the mother tongue over tea and crumpets.

Now back on topic: I'm not inside the guy's head, but I'd say it's a reasonable certainty that at no time in his entire coaching career has BB ever SCREWED UP A GAME TO TEACH HIS TEAM A LESSON!


by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 7:08pm

I had to look this up to understand it, and I'm not sure why the NFL can't publish a complete set of rules online like the MLB, but anyway ...

Ryan Mc has it correct. The "direction" of a pass, forward or backward, is determined by the way the QB is holding the ball when he intentionally moves his arm forward. If he's holding it to throw it forward, no matter where it goes, it's a forward pass, and not a backward pass.

If a QB is holding the ball to throw a lateral, moves his arm to throw, and is hit, causing the ball to move toward the opponent's goal line, it would be a backward pass, because it is not a forward pass.

I think. It doesn't explicitly say.

by Morgan (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 8:06pm

As a former running back I can tell you that it is vital that the play be called dead when your knee, elbow, butt or ball touch the ground. If not, the runner is in a helpless position with late comers flying in from all directions trying to pry the ball loose. I give a running back about a three play career if defenders are yanking limbs in three different directions after every tackle.

What is it with the Patriot fans? They simply cannot accept the fact they were beaten on any specific sunday. Any football fan outside of Massachuscetts knows that the Brady fumble was a fumble. Perhaps they are still confused by the 'Tuck' rule which gave them their first Super Bowl.

The Stephen Davis touchdown? If it wasn't a touchdown by Davis it was definitely a touchdown by the offensive lineman.
If anyone has a complaint from the officiating it should be the panthers. Did you see the holds and tackles on Peppers? Did you see any contact by Ricky Manning on the late flagged defensive holding on the last drive that kept it alive to begin with? Or how about offensive pass interference on peppers in the endzone? Come again?

There are always poor calls and questionable calls. The Patriots have been on the benefit side of that for so long they think they are entitled to every close call and a couple more besides.
Belichek isn't making excuses. I wish the Patriot fans were as classy.

by Morgan (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 8:15pm

The understandable version:


Rule as to fumbles after two minute warnings and on fourth down:

4. On a play from scrimmage, if an offensive player fumbles anywhere on the field during fourth down, only the fumbling player is permitted to recover and/or advance the ball. If any player fumbles after the two-minute warning in a half, only the fumbling player is permitted to recover and/or advance the ball. If recovered by any other offensive player, the ball is dead at the spot of the fumble unless it is recovered behind the spot of the fumble. In that case, the ball is dead at the spot of recovery. Any defensive player may recover and/or advance any fumble at any time.

by Rob (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 8:44pm

re: 68

Actually, if an offensive player fumbles the ball into the endzone, it is a touchback. If Belichick challenged it and won, the Patriots would have gotten the ball on the 20 yard line. Did you see the Saints/Giants game where Horn lost the ball and hit the pylon and he lost possession because it was considered a touchback.

Belichick should have challenged the play because, it would have stopped the Panthers from scoring AND taking any more shots at the end zone on that drive.

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 9:00pm

Re: #68

Glass houses, #68, glass houses.

Re: #70

That's not true. It's only a touchback if the ball, on impetus from the offense, goes into the endzone and then out of the field of play (which is what happened to Horn). Offensive fumbles absolutely can be recovered by the offense in the endzone for touchdowns (just keep in mind the rule cited in #69).

by Morgan (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 11:20pm

Your thinking of a defensive player recovering in his own endzone.

by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Thu, 09/22/2005 - 12:40am

It's a good thing you didn't play football 50 years ago...

If I want to see people needlessly get killed without pads on I can always turn on Aussie Rules... whoever thinks Soccer is the ultimate team sport for endurance, etc has to watch that... it's like a mix of soccer, american football, and rugby...

From watching it I would think it would be beneficial to have these guys as your punter because he is tough enough to act as an extra special teams ace.

by Morgan (not verified) :: Thu, 09/22/2005 - 1:44am

Funny you should mention that. I'm still recovering from a torn rotator cuff from an Aussie Rules Football practice.

by Jeremy (not verified) :: Fri, 09/23/2005 - 12:14pm

What is it with the Patriot fans? They simply cannot accept the fact they were beaten on any specific sunday. Any football fan outside of Massachuscetts knows that the Brady fumble was a fumble. Perhaps they are still confused by the ‘Tuck’ rule which gave them their first Super Bowl.

First of all, virtually all football fans in MA know that too.

But my real point is that it's ludicrous to say that the Tuck rule "gave" the Pats their first Super Bowl -- it's along the lines of a Jason Whitlock article about Rob Johnson that had him in the Super Bowl if not for the Music City Miracle, ignoring the fact that it was the first round of the playoffs. After The Tuck occurred, here's what the Pats had to do to win their first Super Bowl:

-- hit a 45-yard FG in a major snowstorm
-- drive again in OT and hit a short FG in a major snowstorm
-- go to Pittsburgh and win the AFC Championship on the road, with their starting QB injured in the first half
-- hold the "Greatest Show on Turf" to 17 points inside a dome
-- Drive 53 yards in 1:21, then kick a 48-yard FG to win the Super Bowl

But yeah, it was all over after that Tuck.

by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Fri, 09/23/2005 - 12:39pm

I think it's important to distinguish between a bad call and a (possibly) bad rule.
The tuck call in Pats-Raiders was the correct call (seriously, read the rules if you're still arguing this was a blown call), but is probably a stupid rule.
I can remember another example of this from a playoff game: Chargers-Dolphins after the 1994 season. In that game Keith Jackson tried to throw a lateral after a reception from Marino and the ball went forward before being recovered by the Chargers. The officials ruled incomplete illegal forward pass, which meant Miami was penalised 5 yards and loss of down, but still had possession of the football. Despite Bobby Ross's rantings at the time, the CALL is 100% correct (there's no such thing as a forward lateral), but I would cetainly agree it's a strange RULE.
The officials are on the field to enforce the rules as they stand (even if they don't personally agree with them.)

by MRH (not verified) :: Fri, 09/23/2005 - 1:57pm

Re 67 - agree completely. Who knows where a complete NFL rule book can be found (not the digest on NFL.com)?

Re 75 - good points. Also, I've always felt Gruden blew it by not trying to score on the Raiders' last possession in regulation - unlike how BB approached the last possession in the SB. Play to win, not to tie.

by Morgan (not verified) :: Sat, 09/24/2005 - 3:11pm

My point on the Tuck Rule is that they can't get to the Super Bowl if they lose that game. That's how the playoff's work. It's a one and out kind of thing. When was the last time that the Tuck rule was called in a game before the Patriots-Raiders game? When has it been called since? When a rarely, or never used, rule is suddenly pulled out of the hat in a critical turnover situation in the playoffs than it is more than a little suspicious. If a rule is not enforced, or emphasized as the NFL likes to put it, year in and year out it has no business making its maiden appearance in the final minutes of a playoff game. For example, where was the illegal contact downfield after five yards before last year?

by Jeremy (not verified) :: Sun, 09/25/2005 - 8:07pm

Re: 78

So you're suggesting that existing rules shouldn't be enforced, unless you want them to be? Interesting case, that.

by Zac (not verified) :: Mon, 09/26/2005 - 12:50am

Morgan, it is enforced, but the circumstances of the tuck rule come up so rarely that rarely does it need to be enforced.

And somebody already mentioned how the British spell them as offence and defence. It even says defence in the Preamable to the Constitution.

Re: Belicheck. I'm reminded about how Mike Martz has said that he will make challenges that he knows aren't going to be overturned if the player nearest the ball tells him to. He considers it a way to show his players that he respects their opinion. What does Belicheck's non-challenge when all the players expected it say?

by marc (not verified) :: Mon, 09/26/2005 - 3:31am

"Re: Belicheck. I’m reminded about how Mike Martz has said that he will make challenges that he knows aren’t going to be overturned if the player nearest the ball tells him to. He considers it a way to show his players that he respects their opinion. What does Belicheck’s non-challenge when all the players expected it say?"
It says that he is a much better coach than Mike Martz.