Tuesday, October 6, 2015
Seahawks Beat Lions After a Bad Call in the End Zone
With 1 minute 51 seconds left Monday night, the Detroit Lions were fighting to save their season in Seattle.
Down by 13-10, quarterback Matthew Stafford had led the team on a drive from its own 9 and looked set to tie the game or even win it.
On a third-and-1 play from the Seahawks’ 11, Stafford hit Calvin Johnson, who headed for the go-ahead score. But just before he crossed the goal line, Seattle’s star safety Kam Chancellor made an athletic lunge and knocked the ball away and into the end zone.
Had the play ended there, the talking point would have been Chancellor’s impressive play. A ruling of a touchback, with Seattle getting the ball, would have been uncontroversial.
But as the ball bounced through the end zone, almost certain to go out the back of it, K. J. Wright helped it on its way by batting it. Nonetheless, a touchback was called, and Seattle ran out the clock and won the game.
The call was wrong.
“You can’t bat the ball in any direction in the end zone,” said Dean Blandino, the N.F.L.’s vice president for officiating, told NFL Network.“That is a foul.”
Had that ruling been made, Blandino said, a half-the-distance penalty would have been assessed at the point of the fumble, leaving Detroit inches from the goal line.
Rule 12, Section 4, Article 1 of the N.F.L. rule book says that an illegal bat occurs if “any player bats or punches a loose ball (that has touched the ground) in any direction, if it is in either end zone.”
The back judge, Greg Wilson, was well positioned and looking right at the play. So why didn’t he make the ruling? Intent, Blandino said. Batting the ball is allowed if it is inadvertent.
Certainly to the eyes of most watching the game, Wright’s act seemed intentional. But the play was not reviewable.
“It’s a judgment call,” Blandino said. “You can’t rule on intent.”
Nevertheless, he acknowledged, “In looking at the replay, it looks like a bat.”
Lions Coach Jim Caldwell was terse about the play: “What can you do? You know what I mean. You’re not going to cry about it, that’s for sure. So we just got to tee it up and go at it again.”
Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll called it “a very unique situation.” But he, too, acknowledged that the call was wrong. “He was trying to knock it out,” he said. “It’s unfortunate the officials didn’t know how to do it for their sake.”
The confusion of the situation was highlighted when Carroll said that batting the ball backward would have been O.K., and that the penalty would have been assessed from the original line of scrimmage, both contradicting Blandino’s interpretation.
The play was reminiscent of another on a Monday night, in 2012, that gifted a victory to the Seahawks. With time running out and his team trailing, quarterback Russell Wilson threw it into the end zone, where a receiver and a defender both grabbed it.
The game was being officiated by replacement referees because of a lockout. One official signaled touchdown, another a touchback. In the end, a touchdown was the ruling on what became known as the Fail Mary play.
The Lions’ outstanding 11-5 season last year was spoiled in the wild card game when a Cowboys pass interference penalty was mysteriously reversed. Even President Obama expressed sympathy: “If I was a Lions fan, I’d be pretty aggravated.”
For the Seahawks, the Super Bowl runners-up, Monday night’s game was a vital win that takes them to 2-2. Their two losses coincided with a holdout by Chancellor. With their All-Pro back on the field, they are 2-0 and looking good for a successful season.
Meanwhile, the Lions are the league’s only 0-4 team. With the season all but lost, they will be ruing another bad call at a bad time.