Sunday, December 22, 2013

Close Call of the Week: Illegal Bat on Blocked FG

In the 3rd quarter of Sunday's Steelers-Packers game, Green Bay attempted a field goal to tie on 4th and goal. After Packers kicker Mason Crosby's attempt was blocked by Steelers nose tackle Steve McLendon, the football bounced towards Steelers safety Ryan Clark who attempted to lateral the ball to William Gay before Steelers defensive end Ziggy Hood ultimately contacted the loose ball by batting it out of bounds—and in a forward direction.

Citing Hood's action as illegal batting, referee Carl Cheffers' crew awarded Green Bay a first down, allowing them to retain possession at the Steelers' two-yard line. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin's challenge was denied on the grounds that possession is ineligible for review.

Relevant to this play is NFL Rule 12, Section 4, Article 1, which states an illegal bat has occurred when "a player of either team bats or punches a loose ball in the field of play toward his opponent's goal line," or forward, the prescribed penalty for which is a loss of 10 yards and automatic first down (since the foul was committed by the defense and prior to any deemed change of possession).

As for that issue of possession which Tomlin challenged, Rule 15-5 states that "recovery of a loose ball that does not involve a boundary line or the end zone" is specifically non-reviewable. Accordingly, officials properly denied Tomlin's request for instant replay review.

Rule 3-2-3 states that "a loose ball (either during or after flight) is considered in possession of team (offense) whose player kicked, passed or fumbled. [Prior possession] ends when a player secures possession or when the down ends if that is before such possession." Article 7 of Rule 3 states that a player is in possession of a ball when "he is inbounds and has a firm grip and control of the ball with his hands or arms."

As for gaining possession of a loose ball, a player must not only have (1) complete control of the ball, he must additionally (2) "have both feet or any other part of his body, other than his hands, completely on the ground inbounds, and maintain control of the ball long enough to perform any act common to the game. If the player loses the ball while simultaneously touching both feet or any other part of his body to the ground, there is no possession. This rule applies in the field of play and in the end zone." Note 1 states that "a player who goes to the ground in the process of attempting to secure possession of a loose ball (with or without contact by an opponent) must maintain control of the ball throughout the process of contacting the ground." Note 1, however, generally is applied during a pass situation.

Replays are inconclusive as to whether Pittsburgh's Clark had possession of the loose ball, although it is clear he attempted to perform an action common to the game in the form of a lateral—again, though, it is unclear whether he gained a firm grip and control of the ball prior to the pitch. The penalty for illegal batting was properly enforced—half the distance (recall the original line of scrimmage) and first down to the offense as the defense was ruled not to have gained possession.

Video: Steelers block Green Bay's game-tying FG attempt, lose the ball out of bounds as penalty flags fly


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