Thursday, November 22, 2012

NFL Instant Replay: Teams Must Know When to Challenge

With 6:50 remaining in the 3rd quarter of Thanksgiving's Texans-Lions game, Texans running back Justin Forsett received a handoff at the Texans' 14-yard line and appeared to have been downed by contact at the 26-yard line. Instead, officials kept the play alive and Forsett ran—largely uncontested—downfield and scored Houston's third touchdown of the game. Replays indicate Forsett's left knee had contacted the ground concurrent with contact by Lions free safety Louis Delmas. After the touchdown was scored and prior to the expected booth-initiated instant replay review, Lions coach Jim Schwartz threw his challenge flag, effectively eliminating the booth review that could have reversed the call of touchdown.

NFL Rule 15-9 states that a coach/team is permitted a challenge except for plays when, among other circumstances, the on-field ruling results in a score for either team. The reason for this is because the booth's replay official is given the responsibility of initiating instant replay review for all scoring plays. This clear delineation of responsibility (coach vs. replay official) is meant to answer the question "is a team responsible or liable to lose a timeout/challenge if after review of a scoring play, the call is NOT overturned?" by simply taking away the team's ability to challenge such a call. If the team doesn't or cannot challenge, it's not liable.

Accordingly, Schwartz was prohibited from challenging the aforementioned play and his initiating a challenge in this situation ran in contrast with the Rules, the penalty for which is a loss of 15 yards.

Rule 15-9 also specifies that the booth replay official cannot initiate a review of a ruling against a team that commits a foul that delays the next snap. The purpose of this penalty is to disallow the booth from rewarding a team with a replay if a team deliberately wastes time in an effort to give the replay official more time to "think it over." A dead ball 15-yard penalty is, by rule, a foul that delays the next snap; therefore, the booth was prohibited from initiating the instant replay review process after Schwartz's illegal action.

This illegal throwing of the challenge flag therefore effectively prevented the call from being overturned by eliminating the booth's ability to initiate an instant replay review of the play and resulted in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for this violation. The Texans ultimately won the contest in OT, 34-31.

Quality of Correctness, Original Play: Incorrect.
Quality of Correctness, Penalty & Prohibition of Instant Replay Review: Correct.

Officials: Referee Walt Coleman, Umpire Roy Ellison, Head Linesman Jerry Bergman, Line Judge Michael Spanier, Side Judge Rick Patterson, Field Judge Greg Gautreaux, Back Judge Greg Yette, Replay Official Bill Spikesma.

Wrap: Houston Texans at Detroit Lions (Thanksgiving Game), 11/22/12
Video: Forsett's controversial 81-yard run in which the ability to employ instant replay review was eliminated


Jack said...

I understand both sides of the issue here. On the one, competition committee amended 15-9 prior to this very season to very clearly say coaches are allowed to challenge X, but our booth is supposed to challenge Y, with no overlap. It was meant to answer a common question about why the booth might review some plays but not others and whether that was really fair to the teams if certain replay officials were not consistently challenging the same type of plays.

On the other hand, yes, now you have a situation where the coach breaks the barrier separating X and Y and he has to be penalized for it. I get it. But still, this is a call that was clearly wrong and that was clearly going to be called back, negate the score. Thanks to the "illegal challenge" or whatever, you now can't review the play? From the team's perspective, shouldn't they still allow the review and enforce the 15 yards on the kick? Though on the other hand, allow that and you'll have a bunch of teams trying this same technique on purpose to try and draw out a booth review.

I get the rule, I understand the idea and frankly, I like saying that teams can challenge X but not Y.

On the other hand, a dumb coach can singlehandedly ruin his team's chances to win because of this rule?

Then again, I suppose coach's mistakes have resulted in losses before, so... I'm just afraid the NFL might give into the pressure here and change a rule that really looks good on paper AND in practice like MLB is considering doing with catch/trap fair/foul runner placement type plays.

All because a COACH made a mistake after a booth call for replay would have fixed a REFEREE's mistake on the field. Instant replay would have worked in this play, I think, if not for that 15 yard penalty, which, again, I understand and approve.

If Goodell apologizes for this call, it will be a fiasco. Yes, the guy was down, knee down. THAT part was wrong. But if he apologizes, I don't think football fans by and large are smart enough (and that goes for ALL sports' fans, on average) to understand the difference between the call on the field of live ball and the decision AFTER THE PLAY on whether to allow a review.

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