So there is some precedent for what St. Louis wide receiver Tavon Austin attempted to do just before halftime Sunday, in fielding a 55-yard attempt by San Francisco's Phil Dawson. Austin nearly turned his return effort into a disastrous safety, however, with an absolutely boneheaded decision.
Austin caught Dawson's miss while tightroping the back line of the St. Louis end zone and began to run it back. He crossed the goal line, then juked back toward his own end zone and was tackled by the 49ers' Derek Carrier. Austin landed fully in the end zone for what looked like a safety.
But the officials ruled that Austin's forward progress had carried him into the field of play and the tackle had driven him backward.
Judge for yourselves:
The play was reviewed and referee Jerome Boger announced that the initial call would stand. By that point, it would have been difficult to overturn the ruling -- at least based on the angles shown to the TV audience -- because it was somewhat unclear where the ball was when Carrier first made contact with Austin. Only if Austin had broken the plane of the goal line with the ball on his own before the tackle began would it have constituted a safety.
Here's more on the call from FootballZebras.com:
Because they ruled Austin was no longer under his power, he gets forward progress. If he lunged for field of play after hit, diff story — Football Zebras.com (@footballzebras) November 2, 2014
Austin could have been tackled prior to leaving the EZ and no safety. Rams lose that ability once entire ball leaves the EZ, which it did — Football Zebras.com (@footballzebras) November 2, 2014
I think it should have been called a safety. On the other hand, I think there's not enough on replay to reverse either call — Football Zebras.com (@footballzebras) November 2, 2014
Again, that's the key. Had the initial call been a safety, the replays probably would have kept that call on the books. There was not really any available evidence one way or the other to change the on-field ruling.
So Austin -- and the Rams -- dodged a bullet.