When K.J. Wright batted Calvin Johnson's fumble out of the back of the end zone, it seemed to many like a heady play they've seen football players make dozens of times before. As it turns out, and NFL VP of officiating Dean Blandino later confirmed, it was actually an illegal play and should have been called “illegal batting.” Such a penalty should be called if it is deemed “any player bats or punches loose a ball in any direction if it is in either end zone.”
In other words, the Lions should have been awarded the ball at the six inch line where the fumble occurred and the penalty assessed half the distance to the goal, instead of a touchback for the Seahawks. Calvin Johnson Rule 2.0?
It wasn’t until after the game, when ESPN officiating analyst, former NFL referee Gerry Austin, explained the penalty that seemingly anyone realized Wright's play was illegal. In fact, Steve Young, Ray Lewis and Trent Dilfer all seemed baffled by this rule on ESPN's postgame coverage. Young incredulously asked Austin if this was a new rule, to which Austin replied dryly it had been a rule all 26 seasons he was an official.
Seahawks teammate Michael Bennett even went so far as to call it a “smart a-- play” after the game.
And it turns out even Wright didn't know the rule. In his postgame press conference, he told Brian Floyd of SB Nation he intentionally batted the ball because he didn't want to take a chance diving on it. The Seahawks linebacker went on to admit he didn't know the rule.
When a Seattle reporter told Wright what he'd done was illegal, Wright replied, “People do it all the time though ... is that illegal? Explain that to me.”
“I was just running to the ball, and the ball was right there. And I think they teach us to knock the ball out of bounds so I wanted to make a smart play and it worked out for us.”
Whether Seahawks coach Pete Carroll knew the rule before the news trickled into both locker rooms is unclear. For his part though, he said the Seahawks were “fortunate” to not be flagged.
“[KJ] was trying to knock it out. He did that. So it's unfortunate the officials didn't know ... for their sake.”
The no-call allowed the Seahawks to keep the erroneous turnover and eventually salt the game away en route to a 13-10 win.
Kam Chancellor, who made the play to force the fumble, also admitted he didn't know the rule, as did Lions receiver Golden Tate, the latter of whom knows a thing or two about controversial endings at CenturyLink Field.
Regardless of what players knew in the heat of the moment, Blandino admitted the missed call was unacceptable by the officiating crew clearly in position to see the play.
“Looking at the replay, it looks like a bat. It looks like he takes his right hand and bats it intentionally ... It’s a foul. We have to make that call.”
Blandino added that the competition committee may consider making these types of plays reviewable. For now, it’s left up to a judgment call by the referees.
“In [the back judge's] judgment, he didn't feel it was an overt act so he didn't throw the flag. Looking at the replays, it did look like a bat.”