By Knox Bardeen
On Monday Night Football, the Seahawks won 13-10 in Seattle after Kam Chancellor forced a Calvin Johnson fumble that landed in the end zone. The Seahawks' K.J. Wright then appeared to knock the ball out of bounds intentionally, which was ruled a touchback (Russell Wilson then took the Seahawks back down the field and ran out the clock). Only after the game was it pointed out that Wright's play should have been ruled a penalty on Seattle and that the Lions should have been awarded the ball close to the goal line.
Here, we explain why.
What the hell is the rule?
The rule that pertains to the batted-ball incident in Seattle is Rule 12, Section 4, Article 1 titled "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
Exception: A forward pass in flight may be tipped, batted, or deflected in any direction by any eligible player at any time.
Note: If a forward pass that is controlled by a player prior to completing the catch is thrown forward, it is an illegal bat. If it is caught by a teammate or intercepted by an opponent, the ball remains alive. If it is not caught, the ball is dead when it hits the ground.
So, if Wright had just tried to recover the ball, he would have been OK?
Even if he fumbled it out of bounds unintentionally?
Well, that's dumb.
Why isn't the play reviewable?
Dean Blandino, the NFL's V.P. of Officiating, joined the NFL Network shortly after the Seattle-Detroit game ended. He said he felt the officiating crew got the call -- or lack thereof -- wrong. Blandino felt the ball was intentionally batted by Wright.
"The back judge was on the play and in his judgement he didn't feel it was overt act," said Blandino. "Looking at the replay it did look like a bat."
On the idea of reviewability:
"It's not reviewable in replay, that is specific in the replay rule," said Blandino. "You can't rule on an illegal bat because it is a judgement call, it's an intentional act and you can't rule on an intentional act. That's something that has to be called on the field."
Blandino said this occurrence would absolutely spawn a conversation among the Competition Committee on plays at the end of games, and whether there could be a way to get more review situations installed.
Why didn't the officials catch it?
The official in the back of the end zone had a perfect view of the play.
It will be some time before we get any statement whatsoever -- maybe never -- on what exactly went through the mind of the back judge there, but the officiating crew, and the NFL itself, gave the somewhat lame reasoning that it was merely a judgement call.
What would have happened if they did catch it?
If the back judge had correctly enforced the penalty for batting a ball in the end zone, Detroit would have taken possession of the football at the 1-yard line with 1:45 left to play.
Not only would the Lions have gotten the ball back, they would have had a fresh set of downs and plenty of time to score, whether it would have been a touchdown to go ahead or a field goal to tie. It's easy to see why everyone is so upset.
Can the Lions do anything about it now?
Lions head coach Jim Caldwell asked the same question in his postgame press conference:
"What can you do?"
It was more a statement than a question, but the gist … nothing. Just ask the 2012 Green Bay Packers who left Seattle feeling similarly salty after the famous "Fail Mary" call went against them in a game they should have won.
Has this happened before?
As a matter of fact, yes. At the end of a Steelers-Patriots game in 2011, Troy Polamalu slid after a Tom Brady fumble and knocked it into the end zone. The refs missed the call back then, too, and ruled it a safety.
So, pretty much nobody knows this rule, anyway. Right?
After Monday's game, Russell Wilson admitted as much and even the ESPN analysts seemed a bit confused when consulting with their rules expert, Gerry Austin.
OK, then. Back to psi levels!
Knox Bardeen is a Sports on Earth contributor based in Atlanta and has covered both college and pro football since 2008. He was on location and witnessed the "Kick Six," and he once wrote a book 100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. Follow him on Twitter at @knoxbardeen.