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Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Dirty Laundry: Two momentum changers

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

Matt of Little Falls, Minn., admits he sometimes sees Green Bay games through “green-and-gold tinted glasses.” Nevertheless, Matt asks for another look at the illegal contact penalty against linebacker A.J. Hawk in the fourth quarter of the Packers’ 38-28 loss at Tampa Bay.

As you might recall, the penalty wiped out Hawk’s interception with 6:48 remaining in the game, allowing the Buccaneers to continue their march toward a go-ahead touchdown. After watching the replay, there are two issues to consider:
  1. Did the contact occur inside or outside the 5-yard marker?
  2. Should it have been classified as incidental?

On the former question, referee Peter Morelli’s crew absolutely got the call correct. The replay clearly shows Hawk grabbing Tampa Bay tight end Kellen Winslow at the 44-yard line. According to the official gamebook, the line of scrimmage was the 50.

On the latter, here’s how the NFL’s rule book defines Hawk’s parameters in this situation: “A defender may use his hands or arms only to defend or protect himself against impending contact caused by a receiver. If the receiver attempts to evade the defender, the defender cannot initiate contact that redirects, restricts, or impedes the receiver in any way.”

This part is a judgment call. But when I looked at the play, Winslow seemed to gain a step on Hawk. In response, Hawk reached out and grabbed Winslow, in essence to redirect him. Technically, that’s an illegal play.

The contact wasn’t particularly blatant or physical. But on both counts, I can’t argue with the call.

Meanwhile, there were plenty of Bears players and coaches who were upset about the offensive pass interference call on tight end Greg Olsen in the second quarter of their 41-21 loss to Arizona. The penalty wiped out Olsen’s 16-yard reception to the Cardinals’ 14-yard line and stalled what had been a promising drive.

The replay shows Olsen releasing off the left side of the line of scrimmage, which was the 30. He collides with Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson at the 24-yard line and both players push each other. Olsen then cuts the route off toward the sideline and is wide open when he catches Jay Cutler’s pass.

Referee Ed Hochuli’s crew was quick to make the call, and the NFL rule book is pretty clear. One definition of pass interference -- offensive or defensive -- is “initiating contact with an opponent by shoving or pushing off, thus creating a separation in an attempt to catch a pass.”

So who initiated contact on this play? Technically, it looks like Olsen. He ran a pattern directly toward Wilson, who seemed to be sitting in a zone. As with many calls, you could argue whether the contact was violent enough to give Olsen an illegal advantage to get open. But as with the Hawk call, I can’t argue with Hochuli’s decision. Olsen would have been better served to make his break before or during the contact rather than after.

Now, on to our Challenge Tracker, which went unchanged this week:
NFC North Challenge Tracker
Team Coach Challenge Overturned Success rate
Chicago Lovie Smith 7 2 28.6
Detroit Jim Schwartz 2 0 0.0
Green Bay Mike McCarthy 4 1 25.0
Minnesota Brad Childress 5 2 40.0
Source: NFL