USA TODAY Sports
At this point, it’s becoming very clear that few people actually know the rules of the National Football League anymore.
Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman was very good at not getting penalties called on him against the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football in the Seahawks 31-25 win. Or was he? Sherman was involved in two controversial plays at the end of each half. But watching a professional football game in 2016 is often less about understanding what’s actually happening on the field and more about imagining the possibilities of the thought experiment unfolding live on national television.
What is a catch? What is taunting? What is “a football move?” Is any of it actually exciting? Does it even matter all that much anyway when the sun will one day explode? Was Richard Sherman — like the intelligent football player he’s typically framed as — playing the game within the scope of the rules? Or was he a dirty player running amok?
Here’s the problem: I have no idea. So maybe we should talk about this.
With three seconds left on the clock in the first half, Bills kicker Dan Carpenter lines up for a 53-yard field goal. Sherman mistimes an attempt to jump the snap and was extremely offside. He charges anyway and reaches Carpenter before the ball is even kicked, going low and colliding with the placekicker, who grabs his leg in pain.
Instead of a roughing the kicker call, the flag is only for offside. And because Bills trainers tended to the injured Carpenter, he can’t be on the field for the next play. Bills coach Rex Ryan is livid. Bills players think Sherman just cheap-shotted their kicker. There’s chaos all over the field. And here’s the thing: the NFL soon says the officials got it wrong. Here’s the NFL’s Senior Vice President of Officiating on the play:
At the end of the half in #BUFvsSEA its unnecessary roughness for hitting the kicker. Foul means he can stay in the game.
— Dean Blandino (@DeanBlandino) November 8, 2016
Sherman disagreed after the game, but of course he did. Because a c t u a l l y, it couldn’t be roughing the kicker. Per the rules, it was just a late hit.
You can't have roughing the kicker because the play was shut down for defense offside. You can have a late hit which I think it was.
— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) November 8, 2016
A former official tweeted it so it must be true.
Even in sorting out the decision we saw that a good majority of players aren’t very familiar with the rulebook. Officials announced that — because Carpenter got medical attention — a fourth timeout would be charged to the Bills. Many thought that meant a 10-second runoff on the clock, which would end the half.
Referee Walt Anderson had to yell “THE HALF IS NOT OVER” multiple times on a live mic to keep players out of the locker rooms. With no place kicker available, the Bills ran a play and immediately kneeled, then called timeout spiked the football. One second came off the clock. Carpenter then retook the field but, somehow, Buffalo took a delay of game penalty because the play clock ran out before they could get the snap off.
The official was still over the ball when the play clock expired. Delay of game on the offense! pic.twitter.com/OylelWEfMi
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) November 8, 2016
Was it a clock error? Who knows! Does it even matter? We’re all born to die and the game’s over and there’s no changing it. Carpenter’s kick got pushed back those five yards Sherman’s offside penalty once gave him, and his next kick knuckled wide to the right.
That missed field goal came back to haunt the Bills in the game’s closing seconds. Down six instead of three, Buffalo needed to drive the field and score a touchdown to win instead of having the option to kick another field goal and send the game to overtime. On 4th and goal from the 15, Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor scrambled and threw to the end zone.
His target, Robert Woods, immediately claimed he was bumped off his route and looked for a flag. None came. At the bottom of the screen, nearly 20 yards from the line of scrimmage, Sherman decked his man, who crumpled to the turf.
This grainy Vine recording of a DVR’s replay quickly got thousands of retweets. Bills fans felt like they were robbed. Others tweeted that the play was legal. While people were busy getting Mad Online, SportsCenter devoted most of its opening to Sherman’s collision with a kicker. They cut to Rex Ryan’s postgame press conference where he called the officiating “ridiculous.”
This is the real problem with the NFL right now. Its ratings are not declining because of silent protests or traumatic brain injuries or even boring games on national television. Bills/Seahawks was probably the most interesting primetime game we’ve had this season, and it will be remembered as an absolute mess because no one knew what was going on to end either half. This is about more than just bad officiating: It’s years of poor explanations and interpretations of a rulebook that continues to become more and more complex without actually solving much of anything.
The game isn’t getting safer and it’s certainly not getting any easier to understand. And while it’s controversial and generates plenty of chatter and clicks, it’s easy to simply get nihilistic about a sport that somehow appears to become less comprehendible with each passing week. I’m just thankful Jimmy Graham managed to keep the ball off the ground on two one-handed touchdown catches so I have something impressive to take away from this game. The rest of it contained far more frustration than wonder.
Oh, and because 2016 is truly wild — Sherman logged on and responded to a sports blog posting a replay of the game’s last sequence minutes after he left the field.
@Deadspin that's what happens when the Qb scrambles….. check the rule book ……
— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) November 8, 2016
Just another day in the NFL, America’s most popular sporting league. Please share and comment below. Everything is fine.