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Chris Chase

Did refs blow it by awarding Philadelphia the ball on punt fumble?

Chris Chase
Shutdown Corner

Watch this play from early in Sunday's thrilling Green Bay Packers-Philadelphia Eagles wild-card game and decide whether or not officials on the field made the correct call:

Joe Buck and Troy Aikman clearly agree with the ruling on the field, but a closer look at the rules leaves room for a different interpretation:

Rule 9, Section 1, Article 10

Ordinarily there is no distinction between a player touching a ball or being touched by it.

Exception: If he is pushed or blocked into a kick by an opponent, he is NOT considered to have touched the ball. (See Rule 3-14-3*)

Note: In order for a player to be considered as not touching the ball, he must be blocked from a passive position into the ball. If he is engaged and is blocking his opponent and he contacts the ball, he is deemed to have touched it.

* If a player is pushed or blocked [into a kick], and if such pushing or blocking is the primary factor that sends such a loose ball into touch, the impetus is by the pusher or blocker, and the pushed (blocked) player will not be considered to have touched the ball.

This is why having former NFL officiating chief Mike Pereira in the studio to interpret penalties has been one of the best television innovations in years. The NFL Rulebook is a dense tome running over 140 pages. To layman like you and me, the rules sometimes read as contradictory. Take this one. The "note" in 9-1-10 says that a player has to passive in order to be considered blocked into the ball. But the 3-14-3 rule says impetus (or momentum) plays a part as well. So which is it in this case? Passive or impetus?

After reading the rules, I can't say for certain whether or not the officials on the field got the ruling correct per the letter of the law. But this shouldn't have been a fumble. Some rules go against common sense (the tuck rule, touchdown catches involving Calvin Johnson(notes)) and this is one of them. You can't push a guy into the ball, even if he's blocking you too. When your back is to the ball and your opponent guides you into it, that's not your fault.

In the end, the ruling didn't matter much. After the fumble recovery, Green Bay held Philadelphia to a long field-goal try, which was then missed by David Akers(notes). The game remained scoreless and the Packers got the ball again two minutes later, 9 yards away from where they would have had it if they had been awarded the ball. The officials may have gotten it right, but they certainly got it wrong.

What do you think?

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