December 09, 2009
Since 2006, a whistle hasn't always been a whistle in the NFL. In that off-season the rules committee made the determination that teams can recover a fumble even after an official has blown the play dead. This was done to bail refs out of ruling a fumbling player down by contact, only to be contradicted by replays. After the rule change, the call could be reversed, enabling the recovering team to get the ball despite the premature whistle.
In theory, it was a good change. There are plenty of fumbles and recoveries that happen simultaneously with a whistle, so the ref blowing the play dead has no bearing on the events. However, there are certain situations when the rule is exposed as a complete farce, as in Sunday's Redskins-Saints game.
In overtime, 'Skins fullback Mike Sellers(notes) caught a pass from Jason Campbell(notes) and lost the ball as he was being tackled. The official ruled the play dead. Go watch the real-time replay over at NFL.com. Listen for the whistle and watch the official emphatically point to the ground, signaling that Sellers was down and the play was over.
But the replay booth challenged the play, it was reversed and the Saints were awarded the ball. Whatever you think of the specifics of the fumble and the overrule, the correct decision was made on New Orleans being allowed to recover. But, like the infamous tuck rule, it's a passage in the rule book that goes against the principles of the game.
You see how the ball was picked up as a complete afterthought by Chris McAlister(notes)? (He didn't even bother to run down the field with it.) And notice how Sellers barely gives an effort to pick up the ball he dropped. Linebacker Troy Evans(notes) makes a diving attempt for it, suggesting he was the only one of the three who seemed aware that the play may not be over.
The repeated blasts from the side judge signal the end of the play and the players react as such. But we're supposed to act like none of that happened and what occurred after the whistle was part of the original play? It's like getting in a mock fight with a friend, calling timeout and then punching him in the face.
The contradictions can't be ignored. On one hand, players aren't allowed to make a hit on an opponent the instant the whistle blows, lest they get a 15-yard personal foul call for a late hit. On the other hand, they're supposed to keep playing through the stoppage of play to get a fumble recovery? Whistles can't be the end-all, be-all of play stoppage on one down and then be a mere suggestion the next.
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