Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

Most Recent FO Features


» Defense and Rest Time

Do defenses really wear out over the course of a game? Do defenses benefit from long drives that give them more time to rest on the sideline? Guest columnist Ben Baldwin investigates.

18 Jan 2006

Scramble for the Ball: Zebra Season

by Alex Bogdan and Vivek Ramgopal

Vivek: I didn't like the tuck rule, but I accepted it. This weekend, however, I found myself declaring zebra season after the string of botched calls, both in the “completely botched� and “too close to call� categories. Joey Porter was right in claiming a conspiracy theory after Troy Polamalu's interception was overturned by referee Pete Morelli. Everyone in the world saw that as a pick, but somehow Morelli decided that Polamalu never had possession. The NFL made the rare move of admitting a mistake on Monday.

How in the world can there not be a penalty when the entire Indianapolis defense is in the neutral zone? According to Morelli's crew, this was a no-brainer.

Al: I was expecting to see the real Pete Morelli run out of the locker room wearing handcuffs and revealing that the referee we had been seeing on the field making awful calls all day was Pete's Evil Twin Earl. That no-call on the false start/encroachment may have been the worst call I've ever seen in a professional sports game. And I watched all those New York Knicks playoff games in the mid-90's when the referees blew the whistle any time a defender was within two feet of a shooter late in games.

I can understand how they would miss the false start on Pittsburgh guard Alan Faneca since it was a very slight flinch. But if you didn't see the false start, then you have to call defensive encroachment or a neutral zone infraction when half of the Indianapolis defense has run two yards beyond the line of scrimmage, some directly into the Pittsburgh offensive line, before the ball was snapped.

Vivek: Maybe the refs were going after the “if a tree falls in the woods….� theory with their “if no contact was made…� explanation. The overturn of Polamalu's interception benefited the Colts (a resulting touchdown), and the non-call also had an impact by keeping the Pittsburgh drive alive for an additional five minutes.

Just like the Steelers did when they ate up the clock after that call, Ben Roethlisberger and the coaching staff did a great job of game planning and management on Sunday. The Steelers came out of the gates exactly how Aaron Schatz and Michael David Smith predicted, going to the air on 12 of the first 20 plays of the game and using a lot of play action. After the aerial show, Pittsburgh went back to its ground game, totaling 42 rushing attempts on the day.

After doing all he could to lose last year in the playoffs (five interceptions in two games), Roethlisberger is showing a much greater level of maturity this time around.

Al: Great game by Roethlisberger. After finishing the season with some so-so passing performances after returning from injury, Big Ben has been lights out in the playoffs. His thumb problems seem to be under control, as Roethlisberger threw strikes all first half against an Indianapolis defense that was on its heels expecting Pittsburgh to start off the game pounding the ball. Much different than the quarterback on the other side of the field, who couldn't hit the side of a barn in the first half as the Pittsburgh linebackers and safeties gave Indianapolis' offensive line fits.

Vivek: We cannot move away from this game without talking about Peyton Manning. More and more players have been getting killed in the media for calling out teammates, and Manning is not getting any preferential treatment here either. His now infamous, “. . . we did have some protection problems,� sound bite was accurate, but should have been followed up with an admission that he did little for the first three quarters of the game. Yes, I'll give plenty of credit to the Steelers, but Manning was not able to effectively change plays at the line, as evidenced by his five sacks and countless pressures. Sunday was the least prepared that I have ever seen Manning. The first 14 plays resulted in just 15 yards. His final numbers (22-of-38 for 290 yards) look good, but I was shocked at Manning's inability to gain a mere two yards during their second-chance drive at the end. A simple checkdown would have gotten the job done. The game should not have come down to a 46-yard field goal attempt by Vanderjagt. It should have been a much more makeable try.

Al: Awful play calling at the end. You have to try and get the first down on either second or third down. The Steelers were handing a first down to the Colts, leaving Dallas Clark wide open underneath on second down and Edgerrin James open short on third down. At that point, Pittsburgh would have gladly taken a Vanderjagt field goal and gone into overtime. What they seemed to be the most worried about was what Manning was trying to do, throw the ball into the end zone to win the game.

Of course, all of this discussion would be moot if Nick Harper had just cut to the sidelines instead of right at Roethlisberger on his fumble return.

Vivek: The Panthers, just like the Steelers, had to sweat out a much closer game because of reversals. The referees overturned two scores, both of which ultimately benefited the Bears. The referees did return the favor at the end of the game when no delay of game penalty was called before Rex Grossman threw an interception, the essential nail in the coffin for the Bears. On that drive, Grossman looked confident, like he knew he was going to lead the offense into the end zone. After that, it was a different Grossman --his mannerisms, face and body language expressed dejection. He looked like he wanted to be anywhere but on that field. Ok, that's enough of my psychology lesson for today.

Going back to the penalties, another of the weekend's lowlights was the pass interference penalty on Asante Samuel. As the first half wound down with the Patriots leading 3-0, Jake Plummer misfired on a pass try to Ashley Lelie. A few seconds after the play ended, back judge Gregory Steed flagged Samuel for pass interference, something that the sideline judge did not do. One yard later, a Mike Anderson touchdown and a 7-3 lead.

Al: Yeah, it was a bad call, but at least it was a bad interpretation of a rule and not a completely made up rule like Evil Earl Morelli's in Indianapolis. Even at full speed, it was clear that Lelie initiated the contact with Samuel, but the back judge's thinking does make some sense. According to an interview Roosevelt Colvin did on NFL Radio Monday, the back judge supposedly told Colvin that he asked the sideline official whether Samuel had looked back at the ball. With that official stating that Samuel hadn't been looking for the ball, and the resulting contact on the play, I can understand why the official would throw the flag. Why he thought he had a better view of the play from the back of the end zone than the official who was standing on the sideline next to the contact, I don't understand.

Vivek: New England cannot blame Steed for this loss, as ineffective offense and special teams units should be the real the targets of finger pointing here. The Patriots played uncharacteristic Belichick football, turning the ball over five times. Do you know how uncharacteristic this was for the Pats in the playoffs? Under Belichick, New England had a plus-21 turnover differential.

Take a look at this:

  • Fumble by Kevin Faulk results in a Mike Anderson touchdown.
  • Fumble by Ellis Hobbs results in a Jason Elam field goal.
  • Interception by Tom Brady results in a Mike Anderson touchdown.
  • Muffed punt by Troy Brown results in a Rod Smith touchdown catch

Coincidence? I think not.

Denver was working with a short field most of the game. After Faulk's fumble, the Broncos needed one pass interference call and a one-yard run to score. It took Denver a total of seven plays to score those three touchdowns after turnovers.

The turnovers wasted a terrific effort that the defense turned out against the run, limiting Denver's high-powered rushing attack to only 96 yards on 32 carries, but the Patriots did not blitz as much as they had in the past few weeks. It took a while for the Broncos to start gaining yards as they ran to the left side of the defense. This gave Jake Plummer enough time quietly to pick at the New England defense. His numbers were not spectacular by any means, but he effectively executed on offense.

Oh, and surprise surprise, there was another debatable call in a game this weekend. After Champ Bailey returned an interception 100-yards, Ben Watson forced a fumble which according to my eyes went through the end zone. The officials ruled that the ball went out of bounds just shy of the goal line. (When was the last time that a tight end chased down a cornerback anyway?) It might have been too close to call, but my personal replay booth (TiVo) ruled that this should have been a touchback.

Al: I agree that it was most likely a touchback, but there weren't any usable angles on the replays. It was apparent that the ball was jarred lose before Bailey went into the end zone, but no angle could give indisputable evidence that the ball went out of bounds past the goal line. Bill Belichick has previously suggested that cameras be in place at each goal line on every play to help with replay challenges, and I can't imagine that play will do anything but strengthen his resolve to push for such a rule change in the off-season.

Vivek: We haven't touched the final playoff game from last weekend, so I'll throw in my $.02. I'll give the Redskins a lot of credit for pulling out five wins to end the season, but Joe Gibbs still has plenty of work to do with the offense. The passing attack disappeared at the end of the season and only reappeared because the Redskins were playing catchup against Seattle. Sunday was the first time since Week 10 that Mark Brunell topped the 200-yard passing mark, and Santana Moss recorded 100 receiving yards only once in the final ten weeks of the season.

In two playoff games, the unit managed just 20 points and two touchdowns, one of which was set up by a turnover created by a defense that has been the strength of the team the past two seasons. The Seahawks fumbled the ball away three times last weekend, but unlike the Broncos, the Redskins could only convert those turnovers to one John Hall field goal.

So this begs the question, “Who will be at the helm of the offense next season?� Brunell? Jason Campbell? Washington cannot go to Campbell in 2006. This is not a Carson Palmer/Jon Kitna situation, where Palmer was getting groomed in practice. Campbell has been nothing more than a clipboard holder to this point in his career. This is a team that has a chance to contend, and inserting Campbell as the starter would set the team back a year.

Al: I disagree, Viv. I wouldn't be surprised if Campbell is the opening day starter in Washington next season. Brunell was hampered by injuries during most of the second half of the season. His knee was the latest injury, but his groin troubles from earlier in the year played a big part in Washington's having to win its last five games just to get into the post season. He's a perfect backup quarterback for someone young like Campbell. When he's healthy, Brunell is still an effective quarterback, but the only way to keep him healthy for any extended period of time at this point in his career is to keep him on the sidelines. Not many teams would be willing to have $5 million in salary cap space holding a clipboard, but the Redskins have shown that they are more than willing to use up space on their cap for players who won't contribute to their team that season.

The Redskins wouldn't have dealt their first round pick in this year's draft for Campbell if they didn't think he would be ready to be an NFL quarterback soon. According to reports, he looked good in training camp this past pre-season. In his end of the season press conference, Joe Gibbs said of Campbell, “We've seen a lot out of him. Now he needs to play. And we'll get into that.�

Vivek: So now we're onto the Conference Championships, but it seems like more players are limping in than ever. DeShaun Foster (ankle), Julius Peppers (shoulder), Renaldo Wynn (arm), Shaun Alexander (concussion), Carson Palmer (knee) and Nick Harper (ok, not a football-related injury) are among some of the big names who have suffered injuries this postseason.

Al: I was listening to John Riggins on Sirius NFL Radio on Monday (can you tell what I got for Christmas? Oh my!). He was ripping Alexander for not re-entering the game after his concussion early in the game. His reasoning was that if you're lucid enough to be cheering on the sidelines, you're in good enough shape to play in the game. Sure, back in Riggins' day Joe Gibbs may have just sent him back out there after “having his bell rung,� but thankfully those days are starting to be put behind us. There are still examples, like Rob Petitti staying in a game until Drew Bledsoe called a time out to have him taken out after Petitti was kneed in the head and barely able to stand up. But it's nice to see that at least some teams are willing to put the long term health of their players ahead of winning a single game, even in the playoffs.

Vivek: I couldn't agree with you more, Al. I don't care what technological advances have been made with helmets, a severe head injury is nothing to risk.

One more thing that has been bugging me for a while. Will running backs please consider not doing a Dan Marino impression on every option play? I know Clinton Portis has a career 116.7 passer rating in the regular season, but he missed on two attempts in the playoffs -- first to Santana Moss in Tampa Bay and then to Chris Cooley last week in Seattle. Portis had some room to run in both cases.

Up next week: a look back at the Football Outsiders 2005 Season Predictions.

Keep Choppin' Wood Award

Al: This has to go to the “idiot kicker� himself, Mike Vanderjagt. The most accurate kicker in the history of the NFL shanked a potential game-tying field goal so badly that Kris Brown thought he was trying to throw the game. At least Scott Norwood's infamous “wide right� was near the uprights. Vanderjagt's attempt didn't even hit the net. Vanderjagt may be right that Indianapolis won't win a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy, but they sure won't do it with Vanderjagt, who will likely be plying his trade elsewhere next season.

Vivek: In a matter of minutes, the award front-runner went from Peyton Manning to Jerome Bettis to Vanderjagt. I don't think many folks are debating the final choice for this week.

Fantasy Playoff Update

Al: I actually put some effort into this draft. I figured out each player's average fantasy performance from the season in our scoring system, excluding the meaningless Week 17 games. Then I attempted to forecast how many games each team would play, to determine their total expected fantasy playoff points in the post season. I then created a VBD spreadsheet to properly adjust my cheat sheet for position scarcity. The result? Easily the worst ever performance in a post-season fantasy contest. All of my players are gone, leaving me with a whopping 48 points. My team has been outscored by Steve Smith. Of course, the person who stated during the fourth round, “I really have the feeling that I have no idea what I'm doing at this point,� is running away with things as the only team with over 100 points. 13 readers have put together 100 point teams, lead by Wooba-Gooba with 129.

Vivek: My “spread the wealth� strategy is not going to help me repeat this year, unless DeShaun Foster makes a miracle comeback and the Broncos decide to go to the air with Jake Plummer.

Wk1 Wk2 Tot Wk1 Wk2 Tot Wk1 Wk2 Tot
QB Manning, NYG -3 0 -3 Plummer, Den 0 11 11 Manning, IND 0 20 20
RB Alexander, SEA 0 -2 -2 James, IND 0 11 11 Johnson, CIN 12 0 12
RB Anderson, DEN 0 19 19 Foster, CAR 15 5 20 Dillon, NE 5 5 10
WR Smith, DEN 0 15 15 Galloway, TB 6 0 6 Moss, WAS 2 16 18
WR Ward, PIT 7 6 13 Branch, NE 3 15 18 Engram, SEA 0 1 1
WR Jurevicius, SEA 0 3 3 Houshmandzadeh, CIN 8 0 8 Smith, JAC 3 0 3
TE Stevens, SEA 0 1 1 Clark, IND 0 14 14 Miller, PIT 1 12 13
K Brown, SEA 0 8 8 Vinatieri, NE 4 8 12 Elam, DEN 0 12 12
DEF New England 16 1 17 Chicago 0 -1 -1 New York Giants 1 0 1
20 51 71 36 63 99 24 66 90
Wk1 Wk2 Tot Wk1 Wk2 Tot Wk1 Wk2 Tot
QB Hasselbeck, SEA 0 22 22 Palmer, CIN 3 0 3 Brady, NE 22 17 39
RB Barber, NYG 6 0 6 Jones, CHI 0 11 11 Williams, TB 3 0 3
RB Bell, DEN 0 1 1 Portis, WAS 11 5 16 Bettis, PIT 11 8 19
WR Wayne, IND 0 11 11 Harrison, IND 0 5 5 Smith, CAR 21 35 56
WR Jackson, SEA 0 20 20 Johnson, CIN 5 0 5 Muhammad, CHI 0 5 5
WR Toomer, NYG 3 0 3 Burress, NYG 0 0 0 Lelie, DEN 0 5 5
TE Watson, NE 15 0 15 Shockey, NYG 5 0 5 Cooley, WAS 1 8 9
K Vanderjagt, IND 0 4 4 Feely, NYG 0 0 0 Gould, CHI 0 3 3
DEF Seattle 0 3 3 Indianapolis 0 3 3 Denver 0 9 9
24 61 85 24 24 48 58 90 148

Best Bets

Al: (2-2 last week, 3-5 overall)

I have no idea what to expect from these games. I'm just taking the home teams.

SEATTLE -3.5 over Carolina

The Seahawks should play nickel defense every down on Sunday. Have five defensive backs in at all times, with two corners assigned to Steve Smith. None of this one cornerback with a safety to help out over the top stuff. As we've seen over Carolina's past two games, that just doesn't work. Have two men on him at all times, with safety help available if he somehow gets past those two. Don't worry about Brad Hoover and Nick Goings; Lofa Tatupu should be able to handle them on his own if they somehow get past Seattle's defensive line.

DENVER -3.5 over Pittsburgh

Denver is the best team remaining in the playoffs, and they get to play this game at home. Their offensive line won't be confused by such foreign concepts like “pass rushing linebackers,� so Jake Plummer shouldn't feel the same pressure that Peyton Manning was under last week. The Steelers have been susceptible to runs to the outside this season, so expect Tatum Bell to have a nice game sharing time with Mike Anderson.

Vivek: (2-2 last week, 4-4 overall)

The NFL's final four finished first, fourth, sixth, and eighth in our final regular season power rankings, but that team that finished eighth is playing the best right now.

Carolina +3.5 over SEATTLE

Three straight road wins. It can be done. The loss of DeShaun Foster (coupled with the absence of Stephen Davis) might seem huge at first glance, but the Panthers were not winning because of the ground game. You only need to look back to last year to see that Goings was a more than capable fill-in for Davis, Foster, Brad Hoover, Joey Harris and Rod “He Hate Me� Smart, recording five 100-yard rushing games and 216 receiving yards in his eight starts. Pass defense is where the Seahawks are most vulnerable.

Seattle will not intimidate Carolina, which has gone 8-2 on the road this year and is 4-0 in road playoff games under John Fox.

DENVER -3.5 over Pittsburgh

The Broncos are now the favorite (3:2) to win the Super Bowl, and this week won't do anything to knock them off that path. Denver was just five points (31-27 loss to the Chiefs and 24-23 loss to the Giants) from riding a 16-game winning streak. If the Broncos jump out to an early lead and force the Steelers to the air, Denver fans should pack for Detroit.

Posted by: scramble on 18 Jan 2006

109 comments, Last at 25 Jan 2006, 6:31pm by Dan Riley


by fyo (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 11:11pm

> How in the world can there not be a penalty when the entire Indianapolis defense is in the neutral zone? According to Morelli’s crew, this was a no-brainer.

Someone with the game on tape, go back and check if the ball was ever snapped. The defensive players can stand anywhere they please until the ball is snapped. What I would like to know is what happens if a defender is offsides and someone on the offense makes a false start. What's the call there? I mean, Indy often tries to catch the defense with 12 men on the field or offsides, but what is the call if, in the process of doing this, they make a false start?

by SJM (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 11:45pm


I believe that is "encroachment, defense."

by morganja (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 11:49pm

I have to differ on you with the refs gave the favor back on the Chicago delay of game non-call. Obviously that was meant to be in favor of Chicago, but not even those home town hero refs could throw the flag after the ball was intercepted. It was just a little late then.

Chicago got the benefit of non-calls on blatant pass interference in the end zone, much more blatant than the NE case, horse collar tackle on Carter ten yards after he had gone out of bounds, numerous holding calls and were penalized only for false starts and encroachment. The least penalized team in the regular season, the Panthers, picked up 9 penalties including two, TWO! defensive holding calls against DT Buckner on running plays. It was apparent that the refs were making zero effort to watch the Bears players, focusing solely on what they could call against the Panthers. And they still won. What road team has won two consecutive road games in the playoffs while being penalized more than the home team? Not Pittsburgh which was called for TWO penalties for 8 yards. How can Pittsburgh bitch about one atrocious call when the rest of the game was so singlehandedly called their way?

by tunesmith (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 11:57pm

I didn't see any obvious contact on the false-start/encroachment play either, but I didn't use the tivo to take a closer look. Would've been funny had they actually snapped the ball and ran an easy play there while the defense was standing there in the neutral zone, pointing at the line and looking at the officials like idiots.

by FizzMan (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 11:58pm

So here's my spin on the no-call on the Indy offsides: None of the refs sees the Steelers lineman flinch. Naturally, they DO see half the Indy team respond to that flinch. They huddle. The ref responsible for watching that part of the line blinked, or coughed, or his attention wandered or whatever - regardless, he's positive that the Steeler guy flinched, but that he missed it. So he can't call it on the Steelers, 'cause he didn't actually see it, but he can't call it on Indy, 'cause they were drawn offsides. On the replay, you have to admit it wasn't much of a flinch. So, basically, they call a do-over. Which, if they didn't actually see the flinch but were basically sure it happened, seems like the right thing to do to me.

by Björn (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 12:00am

#2 is correct about #1

by fyo (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 12:08am

#2 and #6: It CAN'T be encroachment. That's just plain wrong. Encroachment requires CONTACT with an o-line person.

by mcdaniken (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 12:25am

#7: Yes it can. What about the old "unabated to the quarterback" rule?

by Josh (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 12:28am

Agree with 5, I don't think the no call was so awful, it wasn't so clear to me how it should go, and wasn't clear to the refs, so better to call nothing then be pressured to make a call that would greatly affect thr outcome when you're not sure what the right call is.

NFL needs to have Ed Hochuli doing every game from here on in, he's the only one who can take control of the game.

Anyone else notice how the Steelers have now two years in a row advaanced to the AFC Championship game in large part due to kicker missing forty-something yard FG attempt. And both years Bettis had a potentially big fumble. Wonder if the Colts use their first rd pick on a mediocre kicker, seeing how well that worked for the Jets

by The Skeptic (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 12:37am

If the defense is offsides which then causes an offensive player to false start then the penalty is on the defense. Hence there should have been a penalty on the Colts because after they came across the line the Steelers' players were induced to false start.

by DGL (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 12:37am

#1, 2, 6, 7, 8: Actually, it's not Encroachment, it's Neutral Zone Infraction.

by Dante Svalbard (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 12:38am

As bizarre as it seems, I think the refs actually didn't have a penalty to call - they didn't see Faneca move, so they couldn't call false start; the ball wasn't snapped before the whistle blew, so they couldn't call offsides; and they didn't see any contact between offensive and defensive players, so they couldn't call encroachment. I'm not even sure they were wrong to whistle it dead so quickly - if they hadn't the center could have snapped the ball and they would have been forced to penalise Indy (and give Pitt a free first down). Think how upset people would have been over that call - "induced offsides", indeed. None of this is to say that they didn't goof, but once the initial false start was missed, there really wasn't a good way out that I can see, barring review.

by shonk (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 12:41am

#7: I believe the correct terminology is "neutral zone infraction", not "encroachment", but the effect is the same: five yards on the defense.

by Dante Svalbard (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 12:47am

From that definition, I suppose they could have called neutral zone infraction if the o-linemen stood up before the whistle was blown (I don't recall the precise sequence of events.) But that would have been an incorrect call, compounding the original error, since the false start came first. On balance, I think they made the right decision in cutting their losses... (On the topic of the phantom false start - it's true it was a tiny twitch, but I've seen players called for that amount of movement before, and it was certainly noticeable enough to bring the entire defensive line across.)

by shonk (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 12:53am

Well, #11 beat me to it...

As for #12, it seemed clear to me on the replay that one of the Colts defenders made (admittedly slight) contact with the Steeler's line (as I recall, it was Mathis' (or whoever was the right end on that play) knee/thigh touching Smith's head, though it might have been Faneca's). In any case, I don't at all buy #5's argument; if you're the ref, you have to call what you see, not speculate about what you didn't. If you don't see Faneca's flinch and none of the defenders make contact, why are you blowing the whistle?

by shonk (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 12:56am

Er...read Freeney for Mathis in #15 above.

by DGL (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 12:59am

#12: Once the Steelers linemen stood up with the Colts on their side of the line, there was a neutral zone infraction to be called.

Unfair to the Colts? (Or unfair to the Colts if Hartings snaps the ball while they're standing on the Pittsburgh side of the line?) Then they shouldn't be crossing the neutral zone pointing and shouting. (Although with the quality of the officiating, they may have figured the officials could use all the help they could get.) You want to stand up and point, fine, but stay on your side of the ball. That way, if there's no whistle and the Steelers get confused and stand up, it's a false start.

As was said repeatedly about that other game with the exceptional officiating, you play to the whistle. If there's no whistle, and you choose to stand up and point, well, the chips will fall where they may. If that means a NZI, or if that means the other team runs a QB sneak and gets three yards because your D-line isn't set, well, you didn't play to the whistle.

I don't fault the Colts as much as the officials, though. If there's no penalty, you can't whistle the play dead with players standing up and moving around. If blowing the whistle in that situation is the right thing to do, then any time the defense is caught with the wrong personnel on the field, they should eschew the timeout and just start jumping across the line pointing at the offense as if there was a false start (being careful not to touch anyone). The refs will blow the play dead, and while they huddle to figure out what to do, the defense can substitute. You think faking injuries against a no-huddle is controversial? Just wait.

by DGL (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 1:01am

And I always wanted to use "eschew" in a message board post. Eschew. Eschew. What a great word.

by RowdyRoddyPiper (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 1:03am

Morganja, stay high...

You've posted numerous times that Team A (usually the Panthers) is penalized too much and Team B (usually the Steelers) is penalized too little. Would you care to share with the forum your optimum number of penalties per game per team? I'm guessing it falls somewhere in between 2 and 9...how about 5??

by Fnor (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 1:13am

Yay! We're the underdogs again!

The past 3 years all our big wins have been as underdogs, when I had convinced myself we could not win. Except for Cincinatti. But that's something separate entirely. The most memorable was almost driving myself off the road on Halloween in midstate new york in a storm listening to the Stillers upset the pats. I look forward to people once again convincing me we stand no chance!

Speaking of the Pats, lost in all the hoopla is that their big streak was replete with disgustingly close games in the postseason. They're a heck of a team, but maybe we're giving them too much credit? 3 turnovers in 10 games against decent at worst defences made me do a double take when I read it....

by Crushinator (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 1:19am


Encroachment is if you cross the line and are unabated to the QB or hit a linemen.

Causing a false start (Either by motion, simulating the snap count, etc) is a neutral zone infraction.

Either way, I've said this before on some other threads and I'll repeat it here - No team DVOA wise has been more dominant in the playoffs than the Carolina Panthers - who scored at will against the best D in the NFL, at home, with the entire football-watching public knowing Carolina's Offensive game plan.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 1:25am

Adding on to #19, I still don't understand how a missed false start/encroachment/lunacy is as bad as (or apparently more than, since it's "one sided") a completely bizzare INT reversal where the ref apparently got his rules confused and an extremely blatant PI far downfield that wasn't called. So your argument is based on numbers called and not actually blown calls. That doesn't reek of objectivity.

As for the Bears game, I wasn't really paying attention to it. But again, you seem to just be pointing at a number and saying "Panther defence hold twice?! That's unpossible!" And leaving your analysis at that.

And it wasn't a horse collar. The rule is that you very specifically have to grab inside the shoulder pad and pull directly backwards such that the player's legs fold directly behind their body. It's rarely called because it's rarely done, but when it is it has a high chance of injury compared to "just" grabbing him and pulling the man down sideways or with the back of the pads.

by michael (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 1:39am

If the Pittsburgh O-line stood up after the linesman blew his whistle, then they are not guilty of a thing, since the ball was dead. The mistake was that the linesman blew his whistle too quickly, but you can't penalize either team for that.

by Andrew (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 1:56am

morganja #3:

Pittsburgh didn't just get robbed of the Polamalu interception. They also got the shaft on a Randle El non-called pass interference, and were robbed of a Safety. Those 3 calls were worth 17 points in the game (8 given to Indy, 9 taken from Pittsburgh)

by Theo (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 2:06am

KCWA: "He missed it!" (4x)

by RowdyRoddyPiper (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 2:09am

Morganja, just for the record the Panthers are my NFC team...I think it's perfectly acceptable for a person to root for a team outside of their own team's conference...at least I hope it is.

by Torn (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 2:45am

In response to #24, Manning's knee hit the ground in front of the goaline to prevent a safety

by CaffeineMan (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 3:13am

I also thought that NOT calling a safety on Manning was the correct call. Replay showed his knee hitting the ground just in front of the goal line.

by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 3:34am

I didn't look past post #10...

I've seen the no-call play. Steelers RG stands up prior to whistle with Colts d line still in neutral zone. If its not false start, it's a neutral zone infraction.

by Crushinator (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 4:10am

26, I agree.

and theres nothing wrong with having teams you like and having a team that are your team. I'd LIKE to see the Steelers win the Super Bowl so that Bettis and Cowher and Hines Ward finally get something out of a decade of immensely good play. However, I'm by no means a Steelers fan.

For me, Carolina has been the only team I've even remotely liked in the NFC since John Fox's first year.

by Jake Brake (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 4:16am

#9, I believe an argument can be made that Mike Carey is an even better ref than Hochuli. Hocks gets all the attention because he's built like a linebacker, but Carey has always struck me as the best ref in the NFL. Being able to bench press your weight is not a prerequisite to being able to control a game.

by ian (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 5:07am

re: #31 - I agreee with the Mike Carey vote. But both of them are good, and they are so much better than the rest of the field that they should be the only ones even considered for the last three games of the season until someone steps up their game.

by Becephalus (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 7:36am

Jake Brake- they are both very good compared to the rest IMO.

Andrew- I really do not know what game you were watching. Besides the Polamalu INT I thought the game was adequately called. It did seem to me not calling anything on the non-play was the right call and I didn't think the ARE was gratuitous or anything.

Yes the INT call was horrible, but besides that everything else just seemed a wash of normal missed calls (there are several in each game all year in case you didn't notice). Anyone can cite a few each game against their team and overlook the ones against the opponents.

It reminds me of this game I played that tracked players luck in a menu many didn't look at. People would constantly complain about their luck when things went badly, but when you would tell them to check the statistics they would as often as not had above avaerage luck.

Studies have repeatedly shown that people remember the bad luck that happens to them and take the good luck as just desserts for hard/quality effort. Thus, they drastically underestimate how detrimental luck has been to them. In my experience football fans in general and you in particular are All-Pro at this.

by Becephalus (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 7:37am

Oh and as I have said elsewhere, I like PIT about 10 times more than I like IND, although I am not really a fan of any team.

by FinFanUK (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 10:18am

Is it really where the knee hits the ground that determines whether it's a safety, not where the ball is at this instant? This seems a little odd to me since, as I understand it, when determining whether or not a touchdown has been scored it's where the ball is when the knee hits that counts. It's also the same when deciding where to spot the ball after any tackle, no? Now, I don't know where the ball was when Manning's knee hit off the top of my head, I'm just wondering if someone could clarfiy the rule?

by JMM (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 10:30am

The controling issue with the saftey non-call is not where the knee hits, but where the ball is when he is initially hit since that represents his forward progress. The non-call was correct. Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn from time to time.

by D.B. (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 10:39am

This is a little change of topic, but does anyone else hate the "fumble-through-the-endzone rule"? I'd personally like to see it changed so that the fumbling team retains possesion at the point where the player (Champ Bailey for instance) fumbled the ball.

I was kind of glad that the Broncos got the ball back (even though they probably shouldn't have) just so that the rule wouldn't make me mad.

by NFC Central Freak (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 10:43am

Regarding the Panthers/Bears game both, repeat BOTH, teams offensive lines were guilty of holding on numerous plays. If it wasn't Buckner being hogtied it was Tommie Harris getting tackled.

Part of me appreciates the refs "letting them play". But Jake doesn't have the time on many of those throws if the ref throws a fully justified flag.

And the same goes for Grossman.

I think both D-lines got mauled on Sunday.

by Matt Weiner (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 11:02am

35 etc.:
Isn't it where the ball is when the QB is hit? By forward progress rule, you can't get a safety by carrying the QB into the endzone. By that standard I thought Manning was definitely out; he was standing on the half-yard line when he was hit. (And I'm a Steelers fan.)

(The no-call on Randle El being tackled and the interception overturn were craptacular, though.)

37: yes, yes, yes. I don't see why there should be such a big swing just because you get the fumble close to the end zone.

by CrazyBoB (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 11:17am

Re: 37

I heartily agree with you about the fumble into the endzone. This has got to be one of the dumber rules there is. I can't understand why a fumble that goes out of bounds one inch before the goaline should stay with the fumbling team, but if it goes out one inch past the goaline its a touchback for the defense. Now fumbling out of the back of the endzone is perhaps a different issue, but going out the side of the endzone should be treated like any other fumble out of bounds along the sidelines imho.

by B (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 11:28am

37: I like the fumbling through the end-zone rule. I hate watching a player stretch to get the ball into the end zone, lose control of it, and have the play ruled a touchdown because the ball crossed the line for a microsecond before the player drops it.

by RowdyRoddyPiper (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 11:48am

Crushinator, I just assumed you were a Denver fan, sporting that orange crush jersey. You aren't a Colorado Crush fan who feels slighted by all of the attention the Broncos receive?

by MJK (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 12:25pm

I think the fumbling out of the end zone rule was instated because some team back in the 70's (the Raiders? It would figure...) started to get cute and designed a play to intentionally fumble into the end zone. Don't know for sure, but someone told me that once. The league wanted to punish this kind of taking advantage of the rules.

by Oswlek (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 12:27pm

*Fumble by Kevin Faulk results in a Mike Anderson touchdown.
*Fumble by Ellis Hobbs results in a Jason Elam field goal.
*Interception by Tom Brady results in a Mike Anderson touchdown.
*Muffed punt by Troy Brown results in a Rod Smith touchdown catch.

After watching highlights and seeing clips of plays on the internet, I am amazed at how poorly this game was officiated. I don't think the Pats deserved to win, because of the turnovers, but consider the following:

* The only reason Denver scored at all, let alone a TD after Faulk's fumble was the bogus PI call. I laugh when some people say that Samuel wasn't looking back at the ball. His head was turned doing just that until Lelie started mugging him. Even then he turned back to the ball after reseting himself. I will give Denver the benefit of the doubt that they would have gotten a FG on this drive without that call, but that is still 4 points given to them by a bad call.

* On the 50 yard FG, the LG or LT (I can't remember which) false started. Of course it wasn't called. Considering the FG made it over by 2 feet, let's take three more points of the board.

* Brady's INT was horrible (as were the plays just before it; Branch false start on 1st and goal from the 5 and a Givens drop on a probable TD) but there is no way that Bailey didn't fumble it out of the EZ. Simple geometry is all that is required to determine this. Take 7 more points of the board.

* I didn't think it was at the time, but after reviewing the Brown muffed punt it is clearly interference. The defender hit Brown before the ball hit the ground. Take 7 more points off the board.

Lastly, there were two other blatant personal fouls not called on Denver. Bailey tackling Davis by his face mask on the 51 yard pass play and a play where Brady was literaly body slammed on a pressure.

Again, don't confuse my intentions. Had the Pats just held onto the ball, they wouldn't have given the Broncos (and the refs) the opportunities they had. But I find it astonishing that had this game been called correctly, NE could have made all the mistakes they made and still won the game.

by FinFanUK (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 12:54pm

Thanks for that, I'd forgotten about the forward progress rule!

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 1:19pm

Perhaps a better rule change would be to make a touchdown an actual touchdown, like a try in rugby.

This is how they used to do it...

by Aaron Boden (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 1:44pm

I think having a touchdown be like a try in rugby makes it open season for on wideouts. Rugby doesn't have any forward passing so all players are running the ball in. With footballs forward passing, wideouts are going to get clobbered in the endzone before they can get the ball down, simply because there is not much room in the end zone. If they went to a CFL style 20 yard endzone it would maybe be doable but I can't see it now.

by Steelersin06 (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 2:11pm

"Of course, all of this discussion would be moot if Nick Harper had just cut to the sidelines instead of right at Roethlisberger on his fumble return."

I have heard this repeated constantly and I just disagree. We were always taught in high school to run north/south whenever possible, and not to run to the sidelines and then upfield. Cutting to the sidelines and then turning the ball up gives the trailing players a better angle to catch you. Witness Ben Watson's play on Champ Bailey. Bailey was already on the sideline, but Watson had a great angle on him and caught him (it helped that Champ slowed down). If Harper cuts to the sideline he gets by Ben, but then all the Steelers trailing in the middle of the field would have a better angle to catch him. You can see Heath Miller running from Harper's left taking this angle. And there may have been others outside the camera shot. However, if Harper stays in the middle of the field, gets by Ben (he's a QB for crying out loud) then no one has the angle on him, and the Steelers have to catch him using pure speed, which is presumably much less likely. Does everyone disagree with this?

I also think Peyton should get the KCW award. Sure the idiot kicker shanked it badly, but I don't see how shanking it badly is any worse than just barely missing the kick would be. The result is the same. And it was a 46 yard kick (in a dome I know, so call it more like a 41, 42 yarder) but that is not a gimme kick. Manning had ample opportunity as Al and Vivek point out to get the ball closer. It was 2 and 2 and they had two time outs left. Get the first down, try to make the kick a chip shot. Plus, you get more opportunities to strike at the end zone (and the win) if you get the first down. Combined with his poor performance during the first three quarters, I think Peyton's decision-making down the stretch gives him the KCW award over Mikey V.

by D.B. (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 2:14pm

RE #41 - The fumble rule doesn't really apply to the "stretching the ball over the goal line" situation. (I doubt many players don't try to stretch it for fear of fumbling through/out of the end zone.) In that case, I guess you'd like to see a player have possesion in the end zone and get rid of the "ball breaking the plane" rule. The fumble rule would still be stupid in that case.

by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 2:17pm

Now fumbling out of the back of the endzone is perhaps a different issue, but going out the side of the endzone should be treated like any other fumble out of bounds along the sidelines imho.

To be honest, this is just poor ball handling by Champ Bailey - he needed to switch the ball to his outside hand. If he did that, there'd be less risk of fumbling it in bounds.

It's actually not that complicated a rule. A loose, live ball that goes out of the end zone (in any direction) is a touchback by the defense. Works for both kickoffs and fumbles.

by B (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 2:17pm

I agree with 48 on the second part, Manning deserves the KCW award for his descision making on the final drive, along with his performance throughout the game, and a special bonus for throwing his offensive line under the bus after the game. However, he should be commended for waving off the punt team. If Elway or Favre did it, they'd be praised for thier guts.

by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 2:22pm

but I don’t see how shanking it badly is any worse than just barely missing the kick would be.

Because good kickers don't shank kicks. A barely missed kick could be due to a slightly bad angle or a slight wind. If a kicker shanks a kick when there's a good snap, and good hold, it's because his mechanics aren't reliable.

And hey, when Vanderjagt declares himself "money", he better be - at the very least! - a reliable kicker. Which he's not. So he gets the KCW award because he's managed to somehow convince the Colts that he's a reliable kicker, rather than a total flake. :)

by Nelphonious of Pennefielde (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 2:29pm

Zebra Culling=I'd be shocked if in the NFL Rules for officials guide, that all cases (including the Colts-Steelers NO CALL MADE) gaffe possiblity is covered on neutral zone infractions.Crew collaberative wisdom vanished under pressure.DOUBLE FOUL EACH TEAM creative declaration and do over would've floated ok!

by ToxikFetus (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 2:32pm

Re 52:

Well, to be honest, the NFL recordbook has determined that Vanderjagt is a reliable kicker. Of course, if you had Akers or Vinateri playing their entire career in a dome their stats might be a little higher too...

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 2:45pm

Regarding the fumble through the end zone rule, I'd like to see one change. I think any fumble where the ball lands out of bounds beyond the goal line should result in the touchback. Announcers constantly refer to the goal line extending to infinity when a player leaps to score a touchdown and is clearly out of bounds (in the air). If this is the rule when the ball is in a player's possession, why not during a fumble (or a punt for that matter)?

It would make the call much easier and more consistent for the officials.

by JC (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 2:49pm

Great website and great commentary offered by the posters in the comment sections. I can truly say that it is a welcome change from the message boards that have nothing more than ridiculous generalization comments. Also, DGL, thank you for commenting on my power rankings rant. You were very insightful in explaining DVOA's purpose and use, I look forward to seeing some of the inaccuracies corrected in the future.

On to the officiating; There has, is, and will be many discussions about the officiating over the weekend. Rather than rant about specific calls I'd like to address the overall picture. What the hell happened? Was this incompetence? As a Steelers fan I have been involved in many of conspiracy discussions (Steeler fans - admit it, this is typical of nearly every season - remember the coin toss?) but I've never given much merit to any of them. However, this last game was awfully suspect that there were higher powers at work. The INT was obvious, the Randle El PI was blantant, and there absolutely must have been a call made on the infraction. Maybe in the future this could be called a delay of game on the defense because we certainly don't want to lay precedence for the future - picture a defense acting out a false start if they aren't prepared for the offensive scheme. As for the apparent safety I agree with the call on the field but 9 out of 10 times that would have gone the other way. All in all something was seriously amiss and as NFL fans we should all be outraged - games should be decided by the play of football - not the officiating. That said - is there, can there, or will there be any actual reprecussions to this (other than the occasional "were sorry" issued by the league) will there be an investigation of any kind? Or do we chalk this up to incompetence and move on?

Random thoughts; Since the NFL isn't fining Porter - does that mean they agree with him? Steeler fans - didn't you find it interesting that Cowher didn't make a fuss about the officiating? This is a different team than what your use to seeing - better mindset - look out Denver.

by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 3:01pm

Oh, and also regarding fumbling through the end zone:

Here's a great imaginary situation: imagine if a team's backed up to their own 1 yard line. They hand off, and the runner scoots forward about 5 yards, before fumbling it. A linebacker on the defense recovers, and tries to run it in for a touchdown, and the quarterback of the original team meets him head on, and strips the football out, sending it flying out of the end zone.

What the heck is that? That's pretty clear - I think that's a touchback for the original offense - they start from their own 20. 20 free yards of field position!

Now, to make things worse: imagine that the linebacker is instead tripped up, and fumbles the ball into the end zone. The quarterback scrambles to recover the ball, but it squirts off the side. What's that?

That, I have no idea. You'd think that it should be a touchback, but if you read the description of a safety, it sounds pretty close. (The quarterback provided the impetus for it to go out of bounds)

Want to make it even worse? If the QB picks up the ball and is hit by a defensive lineman, sending the ball flying out of the end zone. Touchback or safety?


by B (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 3:14pm

I seem to remember a case where there was a bad snap by an offense near thier end zone, so the QB, instead of risking a touchdown, kicked the fall out of bounds and it was ruled a safety. By that logic, I think if the QB was the imputes of the ball going out of bounds, it's a safety, if the defensive player is, it's a touchback, so the last two cases would be safties.

by Chip Moore (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 3:34pm

Indisputable visual evidence? Whether or not there is indisputable visual evidence to overturn a call on the field is a judgement the referee makes. It may be reasonable to stick with the call on the field when the official making the call has a good look at the play and the video is not definitive. However, when the officials on the field do not get a good look at the play, the referee reviewing the play is the official in the best position to call the play. He should call it. The "indisputable visual evidence" rule does not trump the referee's responsibility to see that each call be made by the official in the best position to make that call, with whatever evidence is available. That is the referee's primary job. The officials on the field ruling on Champ Bailey's fumble at the goal line had no idea where the ball went after it left Bailey's right hand. The referee reviewing the call did not have conclusive video, but he did have the best look at the play. That call was his responsibility saturday night in Denver. But he chickened out.

by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 3:52pm

Re: 55
My initial thought when Bailey fumbled out of bounds was "The ball crossed the plane before hitting out of bounds... therefore it's a safety".

After thinking it through though, when Bailey loses possesion and it goes out of bounds, it is more like an out of bounds punt. I suppose the NFL could have a separate rules for punts, and a separate rule for fumbles. It's kind've strange that on passing plays the ball could conceivable go beyond the out of bounds lines and be caught and this is legal, but when somoene fumbles it and it goes beyond out of bounds, it is out of bounds.

by morganja (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 3:54pm

Concerning the Chicago-Panthers game comments.
1) The tackle on Carter ten yards after he went out of bounds is clearly, by your definition as well as the NFL's, a horse collar tackle. It was made right in front of the official.
2) The pass interference in the endzone was clearly pass interference by everyone's definition. The ref was not chasing the play from 20 yards away, he was standing right there.
3) Yes there were holds by both offensive lines. Perhaps because I am a Panthers fan I picked up on the blatant tackles by their offensive line more than ours. However, where are the damn offensive holding calls this offseason in the NFC? A single flag thrown at the most blatant hold would do wonders for controlling the holding and making the games much more fair. The only offensive hold I remember being called was on the redskins after blatant holding had just allowed Seattle to score again.
4) What is the deal with holding on a DT? If you are not going to call offensive holding how can you call defensive holding on a defensive tackle twice? That was two first downs on plays going the other way. How often has anyone even remembered seeing a defensive hold called against a defensive tackle? Its that kind of wierdness that makes us wonder.
5) The only calls enforced against Chicago were false starts and offsides, resulting in 4 penalties for 20 yards. There were nine penalties for fifty yards called against the Panthers so you can't just say that the refs were allowing them to play. They were allowing only one team to play apparently. This sort of thing has been standard this offseason for the home team, except when Pittsburgh plays.
6) The non call on the delay of game is a non-call that benefits Chicago. Is anyone rally thinking that the refs did not call the delay of game because they knew Grossman was about to throw a pick?

Finally on the Pittsburgh game, which everyone apparently watched religiously while not bothering to look much at the NFC games, they were definitely screwed on the two calls or non-calls. But it is difficult to claim that they were the consistent victims when they once again were penalized less than their home team opponent. In this case a whopping two penalties for eight yards. Did everyone forget the 9 penalties for 67 yards called against the Colts? That's not the way to throw a game for the Colts. I like the Steelers. Always have. They were robbed on those two plays. But they have been extraordinarily lucky with the refs this post-season overall.

Having said all that. As a football fan I sincerely hope that the NFL is getting together this week and actively doing something to make sure that the refs call the games correctly this weekend. Obviously what they've been doing hasn't been working.

As an aside. Did you all read that Pete Morelli is a high school principal? Doesn't this explain 90% of the poor officiating? What do the others do? Insurance salesmen?

by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 3:55pm

While we are talkin about rule changes.

When an offensive team fumbles, they shouldn't be able to advance the ball on the recovery. I know within 2 minutes this rule in effect, but not during the whole game.

by Kami (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 4:05pm

Re: 54

I don't entirely disagree with the feeling of your post, but actually Vanderjagt has been statistically better outside than in domes over the course of his career.

As an Indianapolis fan, I'm starting to think of him as yes, highly accurate, but not clutch. Considering the makeup of the Colts, that's not the kind of kicker they need.

by Erin (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 4:21pm

Not that it's entirely relevant, but the fumble through the end zone rule is probably related to a early NFL rule that deemed an incomplete pass thrown into the end zone a touchback for the defensive team. Once upon a time there was a lot of consistency with regard to possession and end zones but the rules have been tweaked so many times it's hard to keep track of them all. That said, the Leon Lett/Don Beebe play would have been a lot less fun if the Cowboys had been able to keep the ball at the Buffalo 1.

by Chip Moore (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 4:31pm

I agree with #44. Five turnovers is bad, but is not against the rules for a team to give up the ball 5 times and win. If the officials do a decent job, NE probably beats Denver. Drop the bogus pass interference call on Assante Samual and make the call on the Denver lineman moving on Elam's 50 yard FG and Denver probably gets 3 points from the two NE fumbles shortly before halftime. The halftime score is probably 3 all. The score is 6 - 3 when Champ Bailey intercepts a Brady pass in the EZ to stop NE from going up by 10, and Ben Watson wallops Bailey at the one, causing him to fumble through the other EZ and keeping Denver from going up 10 - 6. This is a single play in which two players make two plays at opposite goal lines to prevent two touchdowns. That may be the highlight of the decade. But, of course, Jeff Triplette does not have the balls to call it. So, late in the 3rd, the score is still 6 - 3 NE with 3 NE turnovers and 2 Denver turnovers. In the 4th quarter, NE scores a TD after a long pass to Branch. Denver scores a TD after NE's 4th turnover. (Denver may have interfered with Troy Brown when he dropped a punt in the 4th quarter. It was close.) With 3 minutes to go, Brady throws his 2nd interception and Denver, down 13 - 10, has a chance to come back at the end. Of course, The 4th quarter of a 6 - 3 game probably does not look much like the one played in Denver saturday night. But, either way, this looks like a great game, not the mistake-filled rout we saw. Thanks zebras.

by CrazyBoB (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 4:45pm

Regarding the fumble through the endzone, the thing that gets to me is the idea of being able to cause a fumble, and get possession without actually recovering the fumble. And I don't think it would be hard to make a rule differentiating between touchbacks on kicking plays, and fumbles. I'm still curious as to whether anyone has a good reason why a ball fumbled out of the endzone sideline should go to the defense automatically.

by D.B. (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 5:24pm

RE #55 - When they refer to the goal line extending to infinity, they mean vertically, not horizontally. A player who flies out of bounds at the 1, and lands well past the goal line but out of bounds, did not score unless the ball broke the plane of the end zone. That plane ends at the pylon, but extends upward to infinity. So a ball that goes out of bounds at the 1, yet lands beyond the goal line, should be retained by the fumbling team; And that is consistent with the touchdown rules.

RE #66 - Good question - why does anyone think the defense should get a touchback for a fumble through the end zone. What makes the end zone different than out-of-bounds? If no one recovers it, in either case the ball SHOULD go to the last team to the fumbling team.

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 5:26pm

Re: 66

Are you similarly concerned about an offense being able to maintain possession after a fumble without actually recovering the fumble? This situation occurs much more commonly (fumbles out of bounds - not in either end zone) than the end zone situation. Awarding the defense possession for a fumble in the end zone seems like a reasonable compromise to awarding the offense every fumble out of bounds.

After all, a fumble is by defintion a 'loose ball' in possession of neither team.

by michael (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 5:37pm

The Raiders are responsible for the "no offensive player may recover a fumble in the last two minutes except the player who fumbled" rule. Comes from a Raiders game in the late 70s when Ken Stabler fumbled purposely (against the Oilers, I think), Pete Banaszak (I believe) kicked the ball forward on purpose, and Dave Casper fell on it in the end zone for the winning TD.

by CrazyBoB (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 6:06pm

Re 68:

I don't think you need the endzone rule to balance out offensive fumbles out of bounds. To me the rule should be consistent whether the out of bounds was in the endzone or not. In my opinion in order to get a turnover on a fumble the ball needs to be recovered by the defensive team, otherwise in the case of out of bounds it should go back to the last team with possession.

I also agree that the rule for advancing fumbles should be applied throughout the entire game and not just the last two minutes.

by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 6:47pm

B: Ah, but in that case, the QB was still on offense. In my example, the QB has since gone on defense (the other team gained possession of the ball). So I think it's a touchback.

In the third example, I think it depends on whether or not the QB gains possession of the ball. If he gains possession of the ball, then he's on offense (safety). Otherwise, he's still on defense (touchback).

However, that doesn't really make that much sense - because it means that the best thing for the QB to do is to not try to pick up the ball, but direct it out of bounds.

That's why I'm not entirely sure why the Bailey fumble would be a touchback, and not a safety. When does a team switch from "offense" to "defense"?

by Scott de B. (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 7:02pm

I have heard this repeated constantly and I just disagree. We were always taught in high school to run north/south whenever possible, and not to run to the sidelines and then upfield.

What's more, it ignores the way Rothlisberger played the runner. He begins to the outside of Harper and spins as if to tackle him from the right side. Harper reacts by cutting to the inside, away from Rothlisberger. Then Ben makes a great move to turn around and grab Harper's leg.

Harper, in keeping inside, was trying to avoid Rothlisberger.

by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 7:13pm

As an Indianapolis fan, I’m starting to think of him as yes, highly accurate, but not clutch.

Not consistent, not "not clutch". He's shanked (or nearly shanked) completely meaningless field goals, too. :)

I'm not sure what to call them, but let's say kickers need three things: accuracy, consistency, and leg strength. And here, accuracy is different than consistency.

An inaccurate kicker will miss slightly wide left, slightly wide right, etc. He'll try to judge the wind or angle improperly.

An inconsistent kicker will shank kicks. That is, his mechanics are inconsistent, and so he'll shank kicks even in situations where kick accuracy is easy (like in a dome). And he'll shank kicks with no respect to distance - missing a 30 yard field goal just as easily as a 50 yard field goal.

A weak kicker should be fairly obvious - drops off faster with distance than average, though likely not so much in a dome.

Vanderjagt is accurate, but inconsistent and not particularly strong. His kickoffs are really quite embarassingly short.

by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 7:22pm

I believe "offense" and "defense" switch when possession is established. Let's assume the LB establishes possession in each case.

In the first case (team A fumbles at the 5, team B recovers, then fumbles on the return, and the ball goes out of the end zone), I believe that is a touchback - team A is on defense and forces a fumble out of the end zone.

In the second case (team A fumbles, team B recovers, fumbles, team A tries to recover in the end zone but it still goes out), I believe this is also a touchback - again, with team A on defense, a fumble going out of the end zone is a touchback.

In the third case (team A fumbles, team B recovers, fumbles, team A recovers, fumbles, ball goes out of end zone), I believe that is a safety. Once team A establishes possession, a live ball going out of team A's end zone is a safety for team B.

So I think Pat and I are in agreement on this one. The Bailey fumble would have been a touchback because it was going through the end zone of the "defense." If the team with possession fumbles the ball forward into the end zone, and the ball is not recovered by the fumbling team, it's a touchback.

Re 61: defensive holding has been called on linemen much more frequently this year (and possibly last) than in the past. One of the announcers, I think in the Bears game, brought up that it had been a relatively new point of emphasis. It's more common on pass plays, perhaps (pulling a lineman out of the way to free up a blitzer), but I have seen it before.

by chris clark (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 8:06pm

RE 65:

I think the PI call an Asante Samuel was wrong (and should have been reviewable and reviewed). The non-call on the touchback was wrong too, but I don't think overturnable on review from lack of indisputable evidence (goal line cameras might have provided that evidence).

However, the rest of your revisionist history is simply too much wishful thinking. Even without the PI on Samuel, there is no guarantee that Den wouldn't have scored a TD (and the evidence upto that point was that Den was winning a field position game upto the idiot fade pass on 4th and short). I think without the PI call, Den still goes into the 1/2 with the lead, perhaps only 6-3 or 7-3 not 10-3. Without the PI call )and the TB non-call), the game probably would have been closer, and it certainly would have been less disputed. Unfortunately, we will never know who would have won that game, since no one saw it, we only saw the game as played and refed.

I'm sorry that the refs negatively impacted the game. I would have been happier if the conclussion wasn't as contentious. There were some really good calls in the game too. I think the ruling on Samuel's pick stands out as top-class, as well as great play. Watson's play running down Bailey was just as excellent, even if the call was questionable.

However, to convince people who aren't already Pats fans that without those rulings, NE would still have overcome the 5 turnovers and might have won the game takes a little more evidence, claiming that the game might have been closer and maybe NE would have made fewer mistakes (especially the fumbled punt return by Troy Brown) requires a lower standard.

Moverover, despite the score difference, no one is calling the game a rout. It was a nail-biter upto the last TD. I think it would have been a closer (and better) game if the calls had been correct. I've always enjoyed Den-NE games and most of them have been close. I will never forget the intentional safety a few years back. That's the mark of great football.

by Jerry (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 8:10pm

Re #67:

The goal line does extend horizontally, so that a runner whose feet are inbounds but carries the ball out of bounds can still score.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 8:17pm

#61: A lot of them are lawyers.

Pat: The real question for both your hypothetical situations is where the QB was. If he tried to pick it up from outside the endzone and it flew out, that's a safety. If he was in the end zone and the ball crossed the line on its own and he tried that, it's a touchback, because possession has changed and he contacted the end zone rather than the field before contacting the ball. In the latter case, if the QB had grabbed it outside the end zone and it flew out the back, that would be a safety, since he was outside and then entered the end zone. If he was inside after the fumble and recovered it and then it flew out the back, that's a touchback.

by CoreyG (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 8:19pm

Re #67:

That's not entirely accurate to say that the goal line ends horizontally at the pylon. As seen in one of the Falcons primetime games this year, Michael Vick dove out of bounds across the goal line, with the ball crossing the goal line outside of the pylon. However, Vick's right hand did cross the pylon, establishing him as in-bounds with the ball crossing the goal-line out-of-bounds, resulting in a touchdown.

by Ed. (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 8:29pm

Re: 67
The goal line extends around the world horizontally, but the ruling is tricky:

1. The ball must break the plain anywhere

2. A part of the ball carrier's body must break the plain inbounds (i.e., between the pylons), it can be a hand, even a foot, AND

3. No part of the ball carrier's body can touch out of bounds before points 1 and 2.

There was a play by Michael Vick in Week 16 (if I'm not mistaken) which exemplifies the rule.

On the Bailey fumble and getting undisputable visual evidence in instant replay shouldn't be too hard. The ref could have two simultaneous images: one checking when the ball goes out of bounds, one checking when it breaks the plain. That's easier than drawing a line between where the fumble occured and where the ball landed OOB in a moving image (as was suggested by one of the bobbleheads during the game).

by Björn (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 8:30pm

chris clark, #75

The intentional safety occurs a great deal in the CFL. This is because the wider field leads to more returns for touchdowns. It really does surprise me that the intentional safety doesn't occur very often.

by chris clark (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 8:52pm

RE 70 (68, 66 et al)

I agree with 70. Calling a fumble a touchback just because it goes out-of-bounds through the end-zone, is too much of a penalty for fumbling close to the EZ (i.e. on a TD run). Not getting the TD (on that play) is sufficient penalty. Giving the other team the ball on the 20 is over doing it.

I think that are more reasonable and less onerous rules, such as the team that fumbles the ball gets it spotted at the point of the fumble or of recovery whichever is farthest from the goal (to which they score at) and they *cannot* advance a fumbled ball once recovered, while the non-fumbling team gets the fumble at the point of fumble or recovery whichever is closer to the goal to which they score at (and they can advance a fumbled ball and if they clearly do so the roles are reversed for the next fumble). A ball which goes out of bounds without being recovered by either side is always considered recovered by the team which fumbled it.

Such rules would prevent a team from "profiting" from fumbling and wouldn't need special 2-minute adjustments.

Of course, I'm not an NFL owner nor on the rules committee etc, so such opinions are purely hot air.

by thad (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 9:21pm

re 1-81
That call was a travesty, totally giving the Super Bowl to the Steelers.
And since the internet did not exist in 1979 it is finally my turn to RANT!!!

by thad (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 9:22pm


by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 10:09pm


According to the rules on NFL.com, the difference between a touchback and a safety is "impetus" - if the player who is defending a goal causes the impetus which forces the ball out of said goal, it's a safety. If a player who is attacking that goal forces the ball out of said goal, it's a touchback.

Of course, "impetus" is poorly defined - "the action of a player which gives momentum to the ball". My guess is that the impetus from a fumble is considered to have come from the player with possession.

In this case, 1) is a touchback, 3 is a safety, and 2 is a judgement call as to whether or not the player intended to cause the ball to go out of the end zone.

I think I should submit this one to Ask the Ref. We've already gotten 3 different answers on this one. :)

by Fnor (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 10:33pm

Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it!

I'd love to have a rulebook and tape of all the games, then I could go through and check all the flags and see if I could see if the problems are with rule wordings, refs, or complications with codification. Kind of like what the NFL does, I guess, but without the baggage!

by Hit me baby one more time! (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 10:59pm

I think that all of you who have been babbling about the tuck rule for years now should shut your mouths! The Patriots were totally screwed by the refs, but we are not going to take anything away from the Broncos like all of you have been trying to take away from the Patriots all these years with your ignorant comments about the tuck rule.
It shows how totally low class all of you haters have been when the Pats get screwed ten times worse than the Raiders, yet there is no outcry at all in the media or elsewhere. All the talk has been about a call against the Steelers which did not effect the outcome of the game.

by Oswlek (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 11:48pm

Since it was my post that led to much of the recent Pats/Officials comments, I want to make my position clear.

When you put the ball into the other team's hands 5 times in a game, you probably don't deserve to win. Also, I hold no illusions that the game would have played out exactly as it did, with the exception of the results of the corrected calls.

My point was that only 3 points of Denver's 27 were scored without a bad to atrocious call that went in their favor. And that, for all the people who claim the Pats have been lucky for the past few years, it was probably a top ten unluckiest game ever that was finally their undoing.

I just find it amazing that the Pats coughed it up left and right, yet they still would have probably been within one score (winning or losing) had the game been called anywhere near evenly.

by D.B. (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 11:53pm

RE #79 : Thanks for the clarification. I always though the ball had to break the plane between the pylons. Guess I missed that Vick play....You explanation sounds right, but, yet again, I wish there was a real rulebook posted online.

If you are correct, that just makes for another stupid rule in my book. I think you should either have possesion in the endzone (i.e. two feet in bounds, but the ball in or out of bounds) OR have possesion out of the endzone, and have the ball break the plane between the pylons.

Being able to score by diving out of bounds at the one, and waving your bare hand over the pylon seems...well...silly to me.

by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 2:52am

Is everyone sure about that Vick play? Are we sure it wasn't just some announcing crew blowing smoke? Because I'm not so sure about it...

by deyton (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 4:00am

I'm definitely sure about the Vick play, the play was challenged and the ref said something along the lines of "the ball broke the plane out of bounds, but the player's hand travelled over the pylon, touchdown." #79 has it right.

by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 8:26am

RE: KCW award, can we get these things televised? Who'd watch?

In my mind, there's a Saturday Night Live sketch about Mike "Most Accurate in History" Vanderjagt missing everything he tries. Throwing a gum wrapper in the garbage and missing... sitting down on a chair and hitting the ground... peeing in the toilet and shotgunning all over the bathroom, and explaining to his wife that the mess couldn't be his because "I'm money. I'm the most accurate in history."

by D.B. (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 9:29am

RE #79 and #90 : There an article on ChicagoSports.com (see link) that mentions a Vick play :

"Against the Saints, Vick skirted his favorite left end for his first touchdown, diving for the corner. Typical of his unique skill, Vick appeared to get shoved out of bounds at the 1 as he flew through the air. He convinced Mora to use a challenge flag because officials failed to notice his right hand clipped the pylon, so it didn't matter that the ball crossed the plane out of bounds."

by D.B. (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 9:56am

For any one interested, here's a fairly long group discussion of the Vick play - see the link.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 12:35pm


the non safety was the right call. Manning was clearly hit outside the endzone, and fell into the endzone. Hence down at the 1.

by FastEddy (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 12:37pm

#92, oh absolutely. I watched that game and that was one of those plays where you have to conclude that Vick is Superman. I think he did something similar last year. He dives for the goal line and flies about 1 foot above the ground, flat as a board so nothing touches the ground. He's holding the ball in his left hand but doesn't try to move it to his right, because he makes sure his right hand is inside the pylon. The commentators made some remarks about how other players would try to move the ball to their right hand, to get it inside the pylon. Vick understands the rule though.

It was a very heads-up play by Vick and once you've seen it the whole "plane extending around the earth" thing is perfectly clear.

by Andrew (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 1:04pm

Why do we continue to hear this still talk that a goal line camera angle would have shown whether Ben Watson forced a touchback?

Looking down the plane of the goal line would only show you that the ball broke the plane, which was already obvious from the other cameras. It wouldn't show you where the ball went out of bounds.

What is really needed is not a goal line camera, but a camera directly over the pylon looking straight down on it.

by Justanothersteve (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 1:22pm

re: #77 A lot of them are lawyers.

Which explains why the NFL rule book is over 200 pages.

by Jeremy (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 3:29pm

I don't understand why no one (but me, here and now) is calling for a revamp of the intstant replay rule. I'm talking specifically about the standard -- indisputable visual evidence. Why the heck is that necessary? Refs make calls all game long based on less than "indisputable visual evidence" -- but on the most important calls, the ones that decide games, they have to be able to prove their call beyond a shadow of a doubt?

Why not just let 'em get under the hood, watch the play again, and make the call as they would if they were seeing the play for the first time?

(Also, it is ludicrous to have a replay system affecting the game so much, but no apparent standard set of camera angles to be used. One camera at each corner of the endzone would be a good start...)

by RCH (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 4:21pm

RE: Troy Brown's fumble, don't forget that on that play Brown originally lined up near the line of scrimmage. The Patriots faked an all out rush on the punter, and Brown rushed back to field the punt. This is obviously a risky approach to receiving a punt, and an approach that was at least partially necessitated by the previous bad calls (and mistakes).

Pressure contributes to mistakes. Yes the Patriots made plenty of mistakes, but its impossible to know how much the quesitonable calls contributed to them.

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 4:24pm

Regarding replay, the change to the system that I would make would be to have a replay official in the booth who watches the replay and delivers a vedict to the field crew.

That way, the referree wouldn't have to second guess himself, and he won't have the biases of his previous POV.

by DGL (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 4:41pm

At the risk of sounding like a constitutional scholar, the reason for the "indisputable visual evidence" standard is that the original intent of using instant replay was to allow the officials to overturn those calls that were clearly wrong. Since the networks got to the point of ten cameras and three replays on every single play run, there have been plays where an official makes a call and every single person watching at home knows from the replay that the officials made a bad call. The point of using replay was to give the officials the ability to reverse those calls.

I believe another reason that overturning a call on replay is held to a higher standard is to avoid the problem with one official's judgement call overruling another official's judgement call. So the side judge thinks, from his angle, that the receiver got both feet down with posession; however, the referee thinks, from looking at two other angles on replay, that he didn't, but it's close. Basically, this puts the ref in the position of implicitly saying to the SJ that his judgement carries more weight. And I suspect the league tries to avoid situations where officials are potentially in conflict.

by patrick (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 5:13pm

#99 Troy Brown's play was risky, but he did get back in time and signaled for a fair catch. After muffing the punt he should have had a chance to catch it before it hit the ground, instead he was hit almost immediately. He may not have recovered the ball, but he should have had a chance.

I agree with Oswlek that on the four Denver scoring drives they benefited from incorrect calls, but I don't think that this means they wouldn't have scored otherwise.

by Owl Jolson (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 8:10pm

Re: 62

I Agree, the rule should also be applied to the defense when they recover a fumble and then fumble the ball away from the persuit.

by Oswlek (not verified) :: Fri, 01/20/2006 - 9:23pm


Regarding the first TD, I used the rest of the game as a guide for how successful I thought Denver would be. They had one successful drive in the first half (that ended with a fade on 4th down) and one in the second which included a big play when the defense had to sell out on the run. Both of these drives ended on 4th down with out TDs (although the first one was very close). Therefore I thought it was reasonable to assume that Denver would move the ball, just not into the end zone.

All of the other calls would have given the Pats the ball, so Denver could not have scored on a subsequent drive.

Again, who knows how the game would have played out. Obviously it would have been very different had any one of the calls been different. The Pats are responsible for being in the position they were in because the couldn't hold onto the ball, so I don't think they deserved to win. I just find it interesting, that's all.

by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Sat, 01/21/2006 - 12:29am

The reason that a fumble by the offense (or defense returning a turnover) that goes out of the endzone, results in a touchback for the other team, is quite simple: the NFL wants the penalty to be harsh, so as to deter anyone from trying the old "fumble forward into the end zone" play.

by Nelphonious of Pennefielde (not verified) :: Sat, 01/21/2006 - 4:07pm

###96Andrew is dead on about that camera angle!...... in the largest possible consideration of reply improvement and standards for 2006, a minimum of exact camera locations standards per game met, for maximum coverage angle of most frequent thorny actual past challenges unable for clear resolution!

by Vern (not verified) :: Sun, 01/22/2006 - 3:32am

I think that fumbling into the end zone results in a touchback for the same reason downing a punt or kickoff in the receiving team's end zone results in touchback, in all three situations the offensive team had provided the impetus that placed the ball in the end zone. It only maintains the logic of the game.

As for deliberate fumbles forward, the rules say they should be treated as forward passes, which would (presuming a defender didn't recover the ball) be an incomplete pass and bring up the next down at the original spot, or a loss of down and five yards from the spot of the fumble ifiwas past the line of scrimmage.


by Jake S. (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2006 - 5:53am

How do you say that the Steelers went with a pass-first mindset and quote that they passed on 12 of the first 20 plays. That's a swing of 2 plays, not monumental...

by Dan Riley (not verified) :: Wed, 01/25/2006 - 6:31pm

Recovered enough from the debacle to watch NFL Network's Denver/NE game of the week on TIVO last night. In lieu of saying something as inflammatory as how crazily winnable that game was for the Pats if they & the refs just cut their screw-ups by 50% (any 50% will do), the highest comedy was the Denver sideline after Watson put his hit on Bailey...paraphrasing here:
Bronco 1--What happened?
Bronco 2--Some fool hit him.
Bronco 1--#84
Bronco 2--A tightend???
Bronco 3--I ain't never seen nothin' like that before.

Indeed. If the Pats get that touchback call and go on to win from there, it may have gone down as the greatest play in playoff history. (Sigh) In any case, in the Pats two playoff games, a star was born. The Brady-Watson Era is upon us.