Clay Martin’s intervention during live play isn’t uncommon, but definitely looked unusual

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During Thursday night’s game between the Buccaneers and the Eagles, Fox cameras caught referee Clay Martin keeping Philadelphia defensive end Derek Barnett and Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady apart following a turnover.

But the play was still alive, and Brady could have tried to get in position to make a tackle. (Or, as the case may be, to throw a shoulder into an unsuspecting member of the opposing team at the tail end of the play.) Barnett and Brady were giving each other a mild case of “the business” as the two men jostled, with Brady throwing an elbow at Barnett early in the exchange. Martin tried to break it up, before the whistle blew.

And this wasn’t a case of Barnett looking to take a free shot at Brady. At one point after Martin separated the two men, Brady began to move generally in the direction of the action. If Brady is doing that, he’s fair game to be blocked.

Although a quarterback qualifies as “defenseless” following a change in possession, he’s not immune from being hit, legally or illegally. And there’s no provision in the rules allowing a football referee to act like a boxing referee, breaking up a scrum and sending the fighters to their neutral corners during the live action.

That said, multiple sources tell PFT that it’s common for officials to step between players away from the action. It’s known as “preventive officiating.” The goal is to prevent trouble, if possible.

It makes sense, on the surface. But should that be the way it goes? Should a referee do anything between the snap and the whistle, other than blowing the whistle or throwing a flag? if Barnett was going to illegally hit Brady after the change in possession, that’s Barnett’s prerogative. He’d then be subject to a penalty, a fine, maybe a suspension.

Regardless, the officials should be bystanders during the play, not peacemakers. The break-it-up function should only kick in, if at all, after a play ends.

Clay Martin’s intervention during live play isn’t uncommon, but definitely looked unusual originally appeared on Pro Football Talk