NFC North: Carl Madsen

Dirty Laundry: Intent of delay penalty

November, 28, 2012
11/28/12
12:30
PM ET
Let's address one of the secondary issues resulting from last Thursday's eye-opening penalty against Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz. Namely: What was the original intent of the rule that quashed the Lions' opportunity to challenge an obviously incorrect call in the third quarter of a 34-31 loss to the Houston Texans?

As you know by now, Schwartz challenged referee Walt Coleman's ruling that Texans running back Justin Forsett had scored on an 81-yard touchdown run; Forsett was down by contact before he popped up and continued running into the end zone. Touchdowns are automatically reviewed by the game's replay official, and the NFL rule book calls for a 15-yard penalty when a coach challenges one.

It is technically considered a delay of game, and by rule, the penalty prohibits a review of the play.

Many of you have asked, quite simply: Why?

Most likely, the rule was intended to add some teeth to the league's desire to prevent coaches from throwing their flags on automatic reviews to add more time to the replay official's window to made a decision. You might argue that the referee doesn't put the ball back into play until after the official makes the final ruling, but as we found out Sunday at Soldier Field, that is not always the case.

In fact, the replay official can take a second look at a play if a new angle or more information surfaces after an initial ruling and before the next snap.

That's precisely what happened in the third quarter Sunday, when Minnesota Vikings safety Mistral Raymond was initially awarded a touchdown after scooping up and returning a fumble by the Chicago Bears' Matt Forte. Fumbles and touchdowns are automatically reviewed, and replay official Carl Madsen spent one minute, 11 seconds analyzing the play after referee Scott Green's initial call.

None of the video angles available during that period of time showed a clear view of when Forte's knees touched the ground, which is why Madsen initially confirmed the touchdown.

Green announced it as such, and in normal situations, the Vikings would have set up and kicked the extra point. In this instance, though, a few things happened after the confirmation. First, a new angle appeared on the scoreboard at Soldier Field. Second, the Bears' medical staff was still tending to Forte's injured ankle. As Forte walked off the field, Green announced that the play would continue to be reviewed.

An NFL spokesman told Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com that Madsen and Green were well within league rules to "un-confirm" the touchdown. Later angles showed stronger evidence that Forte's knees touched the ground before the fumble, and he was ruled down by contact.

Now, let's project a scenario where Forte was off the field by the time Madsen initially confirmed the touchdown and there was no new replay on the Soldier Field scoreboard. Without the delay-of-game rule and its consequences, Bears coach Lovie Smith could conceivably have challenged the play to give Madsen more time to see a different angle. That's what the NFL was trying to avoid with this rule. Replay after scores and fumbles are entirely out of the coaches' and teams' hands.

In the end, however, it wound up with an unintended consequence. The goal of replay is to get calls right, and the process shouldn't be used as a carrot to enforce other rules. That's why the league likely will re-write the rule to allow a review to continue even if an coach is penalized for delay of game. But there is reason to think the penalty for delay of game -- and perhaps more -- will stick if a coach challenges an automatic review in the future. One idea: Take away a coach's remaining challenges if he throws his red flag on an automatic review.

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