Monday, February 6, 2012

NFL Super Bowl Officials Deliver Tremendous Performance, a Rules Review

Once again in 2012, the NFL got the Super Bowl right, thanks in part to a wonderful contest by the game's officiating crew.

From referee John Parry's announcement of an early safety against the New England Patriots to side judge Laird Hayes' ruling of a completed catch on the New York Giants' final fourth quarter drive, the game was well officiated.

See below for a more in-depth analysis of the game's biggest officiating plays.

Play No. 1: Correct Call, Intentional Grounding in the End Zone Results in a Safety

To begin our discussion, we turn to one of the very first plays of Super Bowl XLVI, the Tom Brady safety as a result of intentional grounding in the end zone. This was New England's first play from scrimmage and set an ominous tone for the Patriots.

Rule 8, Section 3, Article 1 (formatting herein 8-3-1) defines intentional grounding as a foul called "if a passer, facing an imminent loss of yardage because of pressure from the defense, throws a forward pass without a realistic chance of completion." By rule, this is a pass that lands "in the direction and the vicinity of an originally eligible receiver."

Furthermore, IG contains four items of consideration: (1) Whether the passer or ball has been outside the tackle position (box), (2) Whether physical contact prior to or during the pass significantly affects the throw, (3) Whether the player is legally attempting to stop the clock by immediately spiking the ball and (4) Whether the player is illegally attempting a "delayed spike."

Rule 14-1-11-b specifies that when the offense commits a penalty whose sport of enforcement is behind the offensive goal line, the play shall result in a safety. This provision also appears as an exception to 14-1-12, which concerns running plays with no change of possession.

This play was correctly ruled as defensive pressure on quarterback Brady while he was within the tackle position resulted in a forward pass without a realistic chance of completion.

Play No. 2: Accidentally Correct Call, Patriots' 12 Men Penalty Negates Giants Fumble

Video: Super Bowl XLVI highlights, play at 0:45 (or with 4:20 remaining in 1st quarter)

The reason this call is accidentally correct is that the Victor Cruz fumble should never have occurred in the first place.

When Eli Manning hit Cruz for the short completion, Cruz turned upfield and attempted to maximize his yardage to the five yard line. Instead, he was met by Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes, who forced Cruz back and caused the ball to come loose.

A too-many-men penalty against New England caused this play to be nullified, but had it stood, Giants coach Tom Coughlin could have challenged the play and won, as it appeared Cruz should have been declared down and the ball dead as a result of football's forward progress rule.

Cruz's forward-most point was at about that five yard line while the ball came loose back at the seven or eight. Every once in a while, officials will make an incorrect call that is (thankfully) masked by a team's even worse mistake. Fortunately, this was one of those plays.

Play No. 3: Correct Call, Patriots' TD; Hernandez was OOB

Video: Super Bowl XLVI highlights, play at 2:20 (or with :15 remaining in 2nd quarter)

Back judge Tony Steratore's hat came flying off on the Patriots' touchdown play late in the first half, and for good reason. Eligible receiver Aaron Hernandez had gone out of bounds of his own volition and re-established himself inbounds, a violation of Rule 8-8-b, the penalty for which is a loss of five yards if the offending player is the first to touch or catch a legal forward pass.

Instead, New England's Danny Woodhead caught Brady's pass for the score and the dropped hat was correctly disregarded.

Play No. 4: Correct Call, Patrick Chung's Hit on Hakeem Nicks
A huge hit on an airborne receiver alone is not a penalty.

A huge hit on an airborne receiver's head is a penalty.

Chung did not lead with his helmet, did not hit or aim for Nicks' head or neck and did not hit Nicks prior to the pass' arrival. In other words, this was a legal hit and correctly no-called by the officials.

Play No. 5: Correct Call, Manningham's Big Sideline Catch
Most fans and television commentators Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth had to NBCEE It to believe it, but side judge Laird Hayes saw it all the first time around.

Giants receiver Mario Manningham made an over-the-shoulder catch on a late fourth quarter Eli Manning pass while falling out of bounds.

Hayes never hesitated and immediately gave the "catch" mechanic, much to the delight of New York and to the anguish of Boston.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick challenged the play, but to no avail. Referee John Parry confirmed what Hayes already knew: Manningham gained secure possession of the football, dragged both feet in bounds and maintained his catch when falling to the ground out of bounds.

In other words, this was a terrific call of the game to conclude a very well officiated Super Bowl.


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