Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC North [Print without images]

Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Dirty Laundry: A backward ruling

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

Here's all we can say for Week 3: The NFC North has seen better weeks in the penalty department. Our teams were called for a combined 43 penalties in two games Sunday afternoon and Monday night, including 18 on the Green Bay Packers and 12 on the Minnesota Vikings. There are so many to choose from for our weekly Dirty Laundry feature, so I've somewhat arbitrarily selected two.

The first was one that didn't pass the smell test at the time and, as it turns out, can't be reconciled in the NFL rule book, either. As you might recall from Sunday's game at the Metrodome, referee Ed Hochuli's crew ruled a third-quarter Brett Favre pass incomplete even after it landed four yards behind the line scrimmage.

It seemed the play should have been ruled a backward pass and thus a live ball. Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson was in the process of recovering it at the 25-yard line when whistles blew. In a lengthy explanation, Hochuli said that Favre's arm was initially moving forward and that it was re-directed by contact -- in this case, by blitzing Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy.

Indeed, here's what Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2 says about that topic:
When a Team A player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional movement forward of his hand starts a forward pass. If a Team B player contacts the passer or the ball after forward movement begins, and the ball leaves the passer's hand, a forward pass is ruled, regardless of where the ball strikes the ground or a player.

One problem: When you watch the replay, Favre's arm was never moving forward. Peterson was always his intended receiver, and he was at best one or two yards behind Favre at the time of the pass. At the moment Levy hit him, Favre was standing at more than a 90-degree angle to the line of scrimmage. Unless I'm missing something, Hochuli's crew misapplied this rule. It should have been a backward pass, and it should have been marked on the yard line that Peterson would have recovered it on.

Morgan Burnett
Morgan Burnett's 24-yard pass interference penalty gave the Bears a first down on Green Bay's 9-yard line.
Our second call sparked some outrage within the Packers' locker room. Cornerback Charles Woodson pleaded for a philosophical shift away from the mentality that he thought left officials no choice but to call pass interference on rookie safety Morgan Burnett with 1 minute, 44 seconds remaining in Monday night's game at Soldier Field.

"Somehow," Woodson said, "you've got to get away from letting quarterbacks throw the ball up for grabs when both players have engaged downfield and then you get the penalty and they get the ball at the [9]-yard line. That needs to change. That's heartbreaking for a team to battle all game and then it's always the offensive guy that gets that call. That has to change."

Woodson was blitzing on the play and didn't see it live. Perhaps he saw a scoreboard replay, but I have to agree with ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski. "That will be called every single time," Jaworski said during the live broadcast.

When you watch the replay, you see Burnett running to catch up with Bears receiver Earl Bennett at about the 10-yard line. Burnett first runs into Bennett and then wraps his right arm around Bennett's left hip. His hands remain in contact with Bennett even as he turns to look for the ball, which quarterback Jay Cutler had overthrown.

It's one thing to have contact as two players are playing the ball. Woodson has a point in arguing that those calls should be evened out or just wiped out altogether. But I don't see a time in the near future when NFL officials will allow defenders to grab and hold receivers before they turn to look for the ball themselves.

On to this week's Challenge Tracker: