Dear Jerry, I know you're going to get lots of questions on this play from the Chiefs-Vikings game, but here's mine. A defender, while out of bounds, popped the ball away from an in-bounds receiver (by touching the ball). Then, while still out-of-bounds, he batted the ball back toward the field. The defensive team recovered the ball and was given possession. A challenge and replay review followed with the field ruling upheld. First, how can an out-of-bounds player punch the ball away from an in-bounds player causing a fumble? In such a case, there must be a moment when the ball is not in possession of the offensive player but is being touched by the out-of-bounds defender, which should result in a dead ball. Second, when the defender touched the ball a second time while out-of-bounds, why wasn't it dead at that spot, and returned to the offense? Third, even though the challenge was that the receiver went out-of-bounds before fumbling (which he hadn't), I thought officials could rule on other things seen during a replay? I cannot believe this play was called properly. -- Greg Simmons, Chicago
The ball is out-of-bounds when: (a) the runner is out-of-bounds; (b) while in player possession, the ball touches a boundary line or anything other than a player on or outside of such line; or (c) a loose
ball touches a boundary line or anything on or outside such line. When a player reaches in from out-of-bounds and slaps a ball out of a runner's hand who is inbounds, the ball is dead by rule, and it is ruled an out-of-bounds play. When a replay challenge occurs, the entire play is reviewed, and if something other than the original challenge is discovered, the appropriate action is taken by the referee.
What is the rationale behind an ineligible receiver downfield? How does an offense gain an advantage in this situation? Thanks. -- Robert L., Lake Forest, Ill.
The rules of football are set up so that the actions of the interior linemen are not used to deceive the defense. Restricting the tackles, guards and center from going downfield on a pass play tells the defense that it is, in fact, going to be a pass. If the play turns into a run, the offense is at a slight disadvantage because of the linemen's restriction. The rules of professional football always strive for some degree of equity between the offense and defense. When the defensive team sees the linemen moving down the field at the snap, they know that they are defending a running play. When the linemen backpedal, holding their position, the defense knows it's a pass. This rule, in my opinion, makes the game more interesting.
Do refs have other jobs or is officiating their full-time job? I ask
because the NFL is obviously such a huge business that it would make sense for refs to focus only on officiating, versus just trying to make some extra coin. -- Mike Rudolph, Chicago
Officiating in the NFL is not considered a full-time job. Actually, the officials study year 'round to work at the highest level of the sport. Most officials have regular jobs in conjunction with their officiating. Having worked 23 years on the field in the NFL, I always felt it was a full-time job during the season. The other professional sports have a lot more games per season, with a maximum of twenty for football. I am sure that this is the reason that NFL officials are not employed full-time.
An offensive team faces a non-4th down goal line situation from the 1-yard line. The play is a handoff to the running back, who fumbles the ball across the goal line and, with neither team controlling the ball, it is muffed out-of-bounds. What is the ruling? -- Ryan Tennant, Orion, Ill.
The ruling on your play is a touchback. The ball belongs to the defensive team, first and 10 yards to go on their own 20-yard line. When a fumble sends a ball into or out of its opponents' end zone, it is a touchback, unless the ball is recovered by the fumblers. The team that forces the ball into the end zone is the determining factor. If the defensive team had recovered the fumble on its own 1-yard line and then fumbled the ball back into and out of their own end zone, it would be a safety and two points would be scored for the original offensive team.
Jerry, first off, this is a great forum, and thanks for providing us all with such great info. My concern is with the recent rash of high fines against players for silly acts. I know this isn't really a "rules of the game" type of question, but I'm interested in your opinion. It seems to me that the NFL has gone overboard on the amount of money players are fined for these acts. When a player commits a real foul, the fine is reduced. Back in September, the Broncos were fined $25,000 for the wrong uniforms while Rod Smith was fined $20,000 for hitting an official (accidentally). Keenan McCardell was fined $12,500 for two illegal blocks against the Panthers. Doesn't make sense. I understand there are rules to which the players must adhere, but shouldn't the NFL standardize the amount players are fined? Illegal blocks, which could end a player's career, are given a $12,500 fine and a phone call (Joe Horn) gets $30,000. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. -- Earl, Fort Worth, Texas
I am glad that you enjoy the column, but you probably will not enjoy my answer to your question. You have obviously done a lot of research with regards to fines and categories in the National Football League. There is a department that levies all fines against teams and players, and, as far as I am concerned, are world-class experts at what they do. I am sure that they have a basic formula with regards to specific actions that draw fines. Actions that occur during play generally are not as severe as fines levied because of procedural rules that are broken, and that everyone is aware of prior to the season.
Mr. Markbreit, is there any way you can get a message to the competition committee? It's a simple way to crack down on the excessive celebrations in the end zone after touchdowns. When did the refs stop giving delay-of-game penalties when the ball wasn't left on the ground after the player got up or tossed courteously to the nearest ref? Bring some class and respect back to the game. Enforcing this simple rule could very well do that. Good luck. -- Don Svec, Algonquin, Ill.
A number of years ago, the league had a very strong restriction on celebrations after scores, and 5-yard delay of game penalties were levied for any and all celebrations. The public began to jokingly say that NFL meant "No Fun League." The league lifted the restriction. As
long as a celebration by one player does not involve an opponent, the
action is legal.
In a recent game, the receiving player signaled a fair catch. The punting team had two players running toward him. As the receiving player was catching the ball, it clearly bounced off his shoulder pads, but he took a step back and caught the ball. The two punting team members slowed down and stopped, as they should have. Could they have hit the player after he "muffed" the first attempt at the catch (similar to when a wide receiver is "live" after he makes first contact with a ball)? -- Earl Bonovich, Tinley Park, Ill.
Once a player makes a fair catch signal, he must, by rule, be given an opportunity to make the catch, even if he muffs the ball and it bounces into the air. If a kicking team player attempts to catch the ball or
hits the receiver while he is attempting to make the catch, it is interference and carries a 15-yard penalty from the spot of the foul. If a player attempting to catch a punt does not give a fair catch signal, and the same situation occurs, the kicking team may attempt to catch the ball and can legally contact the receiver.