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Shutdown Corner

Longest rushing play in Texans history stands on odd review rule

Doug Farrar
Shutdown Corner

We thought it was Thanksgiving. Who knew it was actually Flag Day?

The good news for the Houston Texans: They scored a touchdown on the longest run in franchise history. The bad news: That sort of ... well, didn't really happen. With 6:50 left in the third quarter of Houston's game against the Detroit Lions,  Texans quarterback Matt Schaub handed the ball to Justin Forsett at the Houston 19-yard line. At the Houston 26, it looked as if Forsett was tackled by safety Louis Delmas, but Forsett got up and kept running, with only defensive end Lawrence Jackson chasing him. The officiating crew, led by Walt Coleman, never called Forsett down, and the call on the field was an 81-yard touchdown.

The second-worst part of this call is that it gave the Texans the extra touchdown they needed to take the Lions to overtime at 31-31, and eventually win the game when kicker Shayne Graham booted a 32-yard field goal with 2:25 left in the fifth period.

The worst part for Lions head coach Jim Schwartz is that he had nobody to blame but himself.

[Photos: Best shots from Thanksgiving games]

All scoring plays in the NFL are supposed to be reviewed automatically, but Schwartz fell on the wrong side of that rule with a weird kink in the bylaws — if a coach throws a challenge flag on a scoring play, the play is then deemed unreviewable, and as such, this play was off-limits to Coleman or the booth review official. By any replay, it was clear that Forsett was down — his elbow, forearm and knee all hit the turf — but that didn't matter because Schwartz got flag-happy.

"The result of the play is a touchdown," Coleman said on the field."The play is not reviewable by Detroit. There will be a 15-yard penalty on the kickoff."

"I know that we can't challenge a turnover or a scoring play and I overreacted," Schwartz said after the game. "I was so mad that they didn't call him down — because he was obviously down on the field. I had the flag out of my pocket before he even scored the touchdown and that's all my fault. I overreacted in that situation and I cost us a touchdown."

The decision to review all scoring plays is a relatively new one, and the challenge flag rule may be relatively unknown, but here's why this is on Schwartz: Last Sunday, in the Atlanta Falcons' 23-19 win against the Arizona Cardinals, Falcons head coach Mike Smith tried to challenge a fumble recovery made by two Cardinals on an amazing play in which cornerback Greg Toler flipped the ball back inbounds to safety Rashad Johnson after running back Jason Snelling coughed it up. Because turnovers are also automatically reviewed, Smith's challenge voided that automatic challenge, and everybody in the NFL was reminded to avoid trying to stir up trouble with plays that are taken care of up in the booth.

[Jason Cole: NFL should dump this play for player safety]

After Coleman made the call for a touchdown and the penalty, the camera cut to Schwartz, who was seen to point to himself and say, "That's on me." Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham was less satisfied, and he was seen kicking his binder in frustration on the sideline.

That said, it was a ridiculous call on the field since Forsett was clearly down, and the officials should be fined after the fact for missing it. And it's a really stupid rule to cancel a review because a coach throws a challenge flag in the heat of the moment. Coaches generally throw "unnecessary" challenge flags to grab extra timeouts, and that's obviously a nonsensical ploy in this case, because the clock stops whenever there's a scoring play or change of possession.

If the NFL wants to penalize coaches for throwing flags when they shouldn't, that's fine. But the competition committee needs to overturn the no-challenge codicil in the upcoming offseason. It makes no sense, and gave the Texans a touchdown they should not have had.

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