Two controversial plays this weekend generated as much email and Twitter traffic as I've seen on plays this year, and so I'll use this space to explain as best as I can the reasons they were called.
The plays: DeSean Jackson's strange taunting call in the Eagles-Giants game, and why it was not called a dead-ball foul, costing the Eagles almost half a field of position; and the Jermaine Gresham non-touchdown call in the Bengals-Ravens game, which generated a slew of if-that's-not-a-touchdown-then-what-is reaction from you -- and me.
We'll start with the Meadowlands, with an email from Mike, of North Plainfield, N.J.: "Help me Peter, you are my only hope. Can you please explain why the DeSean Jackson taunting penalty resulted in offsetting penalties? My understanding is that the taunt was after the play ended and therefore a dead-ball foul. According to the rules I have read online, a dead-ball foul should not result in offsetting penalties. Shouldn't the play have stood and then the Eagles have been docked the 15 yards from the end of the catch? If there was no penalty by the Giants, they certainly would not have ruled that the catch did not count. They would have just moved them back 15 yards from the end of the play. This seems like either a silly loophole in the rules or the refs just made the wrong call.''
Mike, I thought precisely the same thing until getting the correct interpretation from a source with knowledge of the call. The 17 NFL officiating crews are taught to pair any immediate action after the outcome of a play with the play itself. When I say immediate, I mean in close conjunction with the play -- and before the ball is spotted for the next snap. When you see Jackson run out of bounds, flip the ball at a Giants coach and begin yelling and motioning to his own jersey, that is considered immediate action after the play, and thus paired with the play and eligible to be ruled as an offsetting penalty.
I'm told this is the first time such an immediate-action-after-the-play call has been made in the 11 weeks of this season, but that the call had been made in previous seasons. I also noted watching on replay that when the call was explained to Eagles coach Andy Reid, he didn't seem to object -- though he did seem to squawk at Jackson for doing such a stupid thing.
Onto the Gresham play. As I wrote Monday, I hated the call, because I thought Gresham had possession of the ball and crossed the plane of the goal line, and so he didn't need to maintain possession when he hit the ground. The rule is clear: If a ballcarrier has possession of the ball and pierces the goal line, that's all he has to do for the play to be ruled a touchdown. In this case, after watching the play several more times Monday night, I see the room for argument here, but let me get to the email that caught my eye.
This comes from Charlie Wands of Charlotte: "Sorry, Peter. Re Gresham's correctly called non-catch, you are crazy. My wife and I watched the replay a number of times, and we both agree (amazingly) it was called correctly. He never gained full control of the ball. The refs may be missing a lot of calls out there, but that's one they got right.''
Charlie, you're right, and you're wrong. Gresham did get full control of the ball, but by a hair. He did not maintain control of the ball when he fell to the ground in the end zone. By an absolute hair, from my viewing the replay about 15 times.
For possession to be valid, the first criterion is to maintain firm control of the ball with two feet on the ground in the field of play. If that possession is finalized before the player crosses the plane of the goal line, the runner does not have to maintain possession of the ball while going to the ground in the end zone. If the possession is not finalized before the runner crosses the plane with the ball, the runner has to maintain the catch if contacted when he goes to the ground. Sound complicated? It is. Just remember the Calvin Johnson play. That, in essence, is the way this play was interpreted by the professorial Ron Winter, the referee in the game.
Gresham needed to have control of the ball with two feet in bounds in the field of play, not the end zone -- but he didn't get the second foot down until the right foot landed in the end zone. By that time, the ball had pierced the plane, so it became a matter of whether one could definitively say that when the ball hit the ground whether there was any movement of it.
Interesting watching replay after replay on the CBS telecast -- the network for some reason didn't show the most telling replay until about three minutes after the play occurred. In that replay, from behind Gresham, you can see the ball move on the ground when Gresham falls, trying to protect it. On all other replays, it's very close whether Gresham maintained control of the ball when he was tackled by Cary Williams in the end zone.
At the end of the play, it became exactly the same as the Calvin Johnson play last year that fans hated so much. Johnson had control of the ball in the end zone, but when he went to steady himself in the end zone with the ball, it came loose. And here's where the "by a hair'' interpretation comes in. You can see, by that last CBS replay, that the ball very slightly comes loose.
I understand the Bengals' frustration over the call, because the ref has to see indisputable visual evidence that the play was incorrectly called on the field. The play was ruled a touchdown on the field, and so Winter had to see indisputable visual evidence. On that last replay, he probably did.
I'll say this: The Gresham catch, to me, passes the eye test of what a touchdown is, and I wish the Competition Committee would study catches like this one and mandate a ruling of touchdown when a player makes a catch, steadies himself, gets two feet down (in the field of play or the end zone) and moves forward with it in the end zone -- all of which Gresham did. Marvin Lewis, the Cincinnati coach, is on the committee. Remember that play, coach, and bring it up at the meetings this winter.
Now onto more of your email:
OK, BUT DOM CAPERS IS A LITTLE WORRIED. "Peter, Converted to the column a year ago. I dig it. I think the hand wringing about the Packer defense is a little overstated. They play with double-digit leads, sometimes by the end of the first quarter, so of course teams throw for a lot of yards. Opponents are forced to throw the ball early and often to try to catch up. The Packers are not sacking the quarterback like they did a year ago but they are at the top of the league in picks. If the Bucs showed anything it might be that a bruising, ball control game plan to keep Rodgers and company off the field might be better than trying to win a shootout. Any thoughts?''-- Dooley, of Madison, Wis.
Well, defensive coordinator Dom Capers agrees with you on one thing -- he's not a big believer in judging defenses by yards allowed. He's a points-allowed guy. He agrees with you. When a team has a big lead, it's going to play a different style of defense, designed to make the offense take a long time to get the ball down the field. So the yardage isn't the worry. I'd agree with you on the big-back punishment the Pack has taken at times this year, and they've got to make sure that a Brandon Jacobs type doesn't hurt them.
YES. "With Matt Schaub, Jay Cutler and Matt Cassel all going down with potential season-ending injuries, it got me thinking: Should the NFL move back the trading deadline to later in the season? It could help save some teams' seasons and could give a chance for teams already out of it to start stocking picks for next season.''-- Kevin, of Brooklyn
Love the idea. Always have. The reason the NFL doesn't do it is because of what is (to me) an antiquated view of being pro-fan. Having the deadline on, say, Dec. 6, after the 13th week of the season, might mean that a team would strip its roster of some vets with four games to play.
Case in point: The Redskins are 3-7. They'd give away players for 2012 picks because they know they're not making the playoffs. The Bears just lost Jay Cutler for a few weeks. Say the Redskins are willing to give them Rex Grossman back for a fifth-round pick in 2012. The Patriots might want starting receiver Jabar Gaffney back for the stretch drive, and would deal a late-round pick for him. The Saints are worried about health at linebacker; they could offer a fifth-rounder for London Fletcher. Now, the NFL thinks that since the Redskins flipped three starters off their roster, the fans might stay home for the final three home games of the year. I maintain that fans would be happy the Redskins are looking out for the future, and wouldn't care if they were seeing John Beck throw to Donte' Stallworth rather than Gaffney.
HOW CAN I KNOW NOW? "Your discussion of whether Manning and Luck can coexist was based entirely on monetary issues. However, for many Colts fans, the problem with having both on the team is not the cap hit but rather asset management.
The first pick overall should be a player who can help the team right away. Taking Luck and having him 'sit and watch' means that the Colts used the first pick overall to take a player who will be contributing absolutely nothing for at least a year (and maybe more). Instead, the pick could be used to get players who could improve the team in other areas that need shoring up. I
t could also be argued that any player that needs to sit and learn for any length of time (even from one of the best ever) should not be the first pick overall. Aaron Rodgers is not a good example here as he was not the first pick overall and it was probably not the intention of the Green Bay Packers that he sit as long as he did. Remember, Favre was starting his annual retirement dance at that time.
I would also wonder about this: Luck has another year of college eligibility. If he comes out early, it is because he wants to play in the NFL, not hold a clipboard. I'm sure he would prefer to go to a team where he will start.''-- Dee MacQuarrie, of Toronto
All good points, Dee. But if you trade the pick for a number of choices, let's say, and then go to camp next year with a 36-year-old quarterback coming off three necks surgeries in two years, how comfortable are you going to feel ... especially when you have passed on taking what might be the top passer in a quarterback-wealthy draft?
JOE'S GOT A DIFFERENT TAKE ON WHAT LOOKS TO BE A BAD BALLGAME. "You ask how people like the Monday Night Seahawks-Rams matchup - and I'll tell you, lots of us love it. There are plenty of fans all over the country who love these teams, despite the constant media insults, and I would say personally that seeing my surging Seahawks, who have an exciting young defense and have beaten some good teams this year (well, maybe just the ravens), on national television is something I'm very much looking forward to. Considering all the typical dismissal of our small-market teams, it was funny to see the Eagles-Giants game this past weekend promoted as a battle of contenders, instead of what it was - two average teams battling it out in a mediocre division. Get a clue.''-- Joe, of Newark, N.J.
Well, OK. I think you're in the minority, Joe. America's not going to watch 4-6 play 2-8 with much fervor, but for you, a Seahawks fan, it's great -- a chance to see guys like Red Bryant and Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, the backbone of what should be a very good defense in a few years.