Down 13-10 with just under two minutes left against the Seahawks Monday night, Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford dropped back from the Seattle 11 and found an open Calvin Johnson. As Johnson was tackled with the ball about to cross the plane of the end zone, Kam Chancellor popped it out of Megatron’s hand. The ball bounced into the end zone, and Seattle linebacker KJ Wright batted the ball out the back of the end zone.
Seattle ball at their own 20, and a few plays later the game was over.
But as it turns out what KJ Wright did was illegal, and the Detroit Lions should’ve gotten the ball back on the six-inch line, as the Seahawks should’ve been penalized half the distance to the goal from where Johnson last possessed the ball. From the NFL Rulebook (emphasis theirs):
SECTION 4 ILLEGAL BATS AND KICKS
ARTICLE 1. ILLEGAL BAT. It is an illegal bat if:
(a) any player bats or punches a loose ball in the field of play toward his opponent’s goal line
(b) any player bats or punches a loose ball (that has touched the ground) in any direction, if it is in either end zone
(c) an offensive player bats a backward pass in flight toward his opponent’s goal line
Penalty: For illegal batting or punching the ball: Loss of 10 yards.
After the game NFL VP of Officiating Dean Blandino went on the NFL Network and explained that the back judge—who was ten feet away staring at Wright as he batted the ball—felt that Wright’s action wasn’t “overt,” which is why he didn’t flag it. Blandino added that currently the play isn’t reviewable.
Look at the back judge’s perspective on the play:
His interpretation is, frankly, ridiculous. Besides the clear view of Wright intentionally batting the ball out, Wright said that he was trying to bat the ball out, and Pete Carroll echoed that it in his post-game press conference.
This is also a great example of the NFL being up its own ass, with everybody spending an hour postgame conducting a talmudic parsing of the rulebook that is too big for even the coaches to understand, and debating what constitutes an “overt” action. Never mind that almost nobody noticed this during the game because almost nobody knew it was a rule: it’s an ending only rules fetishists could love.
The Lions shouldn’t feel too put out. KJ Wright had plenty of time to grab the ball instead of batting it, and if the rule was a commonly known one he surely would’ve just snatched the ball and fallen on it, with the same result. In that sense, the Seahawks losing because of a rule nobody knew was a rule would’ve been an even more unsatisfying conclusion.
And in case you thought this story needed a CHEATRIOTS connection:
Sounds about right.
Photo via Getty