The two late flags thrown on the Cleveland Browns in New England have been the topic of much criticism, in Cleveland and nationally.
But the Browns also wondered about a no-call on the play before Billy Cundiff’s missed field goal.
The team privately wondered if Patriots defensive back Logan Ryan should have been penalized for launching into Jordan Cameron on Cameron’s catch at the Patriots 41. Had that been called -- the video is available at the 3:55 mark on the highlights here -- Cundiff’s attempted game-winning field goal would have been from 43 yards, not 58.
Whether it’s a penalty appears to be up for interpretation. The NFL Rule Book states that unsportsmanlike conduct takes place “if a player illegally launches into a defenseless opponent.”
Section 2-8-j of the NFL Rule Book defines it further by stating: “It is an illegal launch if a player (1) leaves both feet prior to contact to spring forward and upward into his opponent, and (2) uses any part of his helmet (including the top/crown and forehead/”hairline” parts) to initiate forcible contact against any part of his opponent’s body.”
Clearly, Ryan left his feet. Whether he aimed his head at Cameron and only missed because Cameron was being tackled is the debate.
ESPN officiating expert Gerry Austin, a two-time Super Bowl referee, said there was no penalty because Ryan turned his back to avoid a hit to the head.
“He does leave his feet, but he doesn’t do it in a targeting manner,” Austin said.
He stressed the penalty is two parts: A player has to launch and target, and Ryan “just launched,” Austin said.
Because he turned his back, “The fact he left his feet has no significance.”
Less blatant hits have been flagged -- including two against the Browns on Sunday in the final minute. Jordan Poyer neither launched, nor hit Patriots receiver Julian Edelman in the head, but he was flagged. Other players also have been flagged when they aimed for the body but wound up hitting the head of a receiver who ducked.
The Browns' case no doubt would center on the fact that Ryan, a rookie from Rutgers, left his feet so aggressively, and that he did have his helmet heading upfield when he jumped.
It’s safe to assume the Browns submitted the play to the league for clarification.
And it’s also safe to assume any explanation they receive will leave them still wondering.