NFL Nation: Tony Corrente
Phil Dawson's 71-yard attempt was wide and short. Referee Jeff Triplette's crew administered all aspects of the play correctly and without hesitation. But the sudden introduction of such an obscure rule elevated a discussion many of us have been having this week: Has the league's rule structure grown too thick?
After all, veteran referee Bill Leavy has made two mistakes of basic rule application in the three games he has worked this season. Tony Corrente, another respected and experienced referee, added a third error by erroneously waving off a chop block last weekend in a game between the Tennessee Titans and San Diego Chargers.
Is it fair to ridicule Leavy and Corrente for in essence not knowing the rules? Perhaps. But when two experienced officials separately fail to keep a nuance or rule exception straight in their heads, and when the rulebook can give birth to a play most people have never seen or heard of, have we reached a breaking point?
Mike Pereira, the NFL's former vice president of officiating, is wondering the same. Now a Fox Sports analyst, Pereira said this week: "The question has to become, has this manifesto become a little bit too big and too confusing?"
In each instance, a caveat contributed to mis-applying the rule in question. A quick review:
In Week 1, Leavy forgot that a dead-ball foul does not call for a replay of the down. As a result, he put the 49ers in a third-down situation when it should have been fourth down.
In Week 3, Leavy penalized the Minnesota Vikings 15 yards after coach Leslie Frazier challenged an unreviewable call. The rule was rewritten this spring to penalize the team one timeout, rather than 15 yards, in such instances as long as the team had one available.
In Week 3, Corrente did not call a chop block on what was initially a Titans pass play but became a run when quarterback Jake Locker scrambled. Corrente announced that "there is no foul for a chop block because the play turned into a run," but he was wrong about that. A note attached to Rule 12, Section 2, Article 3 states that chop block rules also apply when "an offensive player indicates an apparent attempt to pass block, but the play ultimately becomes a run."
So what is the solution here? Will the long-term shift toward full-time status give officials a better chance to commit the rulebook to active memory? Should the league pare down its exceptions, caveats and other nuance? Would it help to hire and assign an additional official to sit in the press box, rulebook in hand, to help ensure proper application?
Cutting back the rulebook seems as daunting as rewriting the U.S. tax code. The other two suggestions are dependent on the league's financial commitment to officiating. One way or the other, however, the league must move to ensure a most basic expectation: That its officials know the rules.
Three plays from Week 1 help illustrate our continuing state of disorder, one that first became evident when Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson lost an apparent game-winning touchdown in 2010 after leaving the ball on the ground to go celebrate. As we (thought we) learned at the time, the NFL rulebook includes this note in Rule 3, Section 2, Article 7:
"A player who goes to the ground in the process of attempting to secure possession of a loose ball (with or without contact by an opponent) must maintain control of the ball throughout the process of contacting the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, there is no possession. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, it is a catch, interception, or recovery."
Johnson lost another touchdown Sunday, against the Minnesota Vikings, after replay officials and referee John Parry ruled -- correctly -- that he did not control the ball through the entire process of the catch. When you watch the replay, you see Johnson gather Matthew Stafford's pass in a firm grasp with two hands and with two feet on the ground at the 1-yard line. He dove across the goal line, but the ball trickled out when his arms hit the ground.
Regardless of what you think about the rule, Parry's decision made sense given its wording -- at least until Sunday night. In the third quarter at AT&T Stadium, New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz was awarded an 18-yard touchdown catch under what seemed to be identical circumstances to the play ruled incomplete a few hours earlier in Detroit.
Cruz made a leaping grab at the 1-yard line, turned toward the end zone and stretched the ball with his right hand over the goal line. When the ball hit the ground, it squirted out of his hand. Cruz did not regain possession.
What was the difference between Cruz's touchdown and Johnson's incompletion? I suppose you could argue that Cruz wasn't going to the ground as he made the catch. His dive over the goal line was a separate action, coming after he technically gained possession.
Regardless, the rule put referee Tony Corrente in a tough spot, and it's not at all clear that he made the right call. Former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira, now a Fox Sports analyst, tweeted this week: "The Cruz catch was ruled complete. It should not have. Ball came lose when he hit the ground. He did not complete the process."
In the aftermath, no one from the Dallas Cowboys complained about the call, from what I could tell. The knowledgeable announcing duo of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth didn't immediately question it, either. The play passed the smell test, as did Johnson's, and applying the "process rule" seemed artificial and awkward to the layman.
Parry initially ruled the play a fumble and awarded possession to the Vikings on the recovery. Upon reviewing the replay, however, Parry noted correctly that the ball crossed the plane a moment before Sanford dislodged it. In such situations, the play is dead the moment the ball crossed the plane. The ruling is a touchdown. Nothing that happens afterward matters at all.
So why is the Bell play dead the moment the ball crosses the plane, while the Johnson play is not? That question has always bothered me. It's as if the NFL has two separate rules for possession in the end zone, one for a running play and one for the pass.
The clinical answer is that the league does not consider Johnson to be in possession of the ball as he falls to the ground. He can have the ball firmly in grasp, with two feet on the ground, but if he is falling, the process rule means he must have possession until after he has landed.
Only then, according to the rule, could Johnson be in possession and be awarded the touchdown that Bell got by crossing the plane long before he fell to the ground and an instant before he fumbled.
I can understand that explanation in a vacuum, but too often this rule leads to decisions that don't pass the obvious smell test. The league considered but ultimately abandoned attempts to rewrite the rule a few years ago. Here's hoping the smart men on the competition committee revive those discussions.
Not everyone understood why the Detroit Lions received a 15-yard penalty for excessive celebration after tight end Tony Scheffler's three-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter.
Some of you thought Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers deserved a taunting penalty for holding the ball aloft at the end of his 27-yard touchdown run.
And a few of you are still wondering why the Lambeau Leap is not considered excessive celebration.
First, let's quote from the 2012 NFL rule book. Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1 covers the topics above. Among the acts the league considers to be unsportsmanlike are:
- Using baiting or taunting acts or words that engender ill will between teams.
- Prolonged or excessive celebrations or demonstrations by an individual player. Players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations or demonstrations while on the ground. A celebration or demonstration shall be deemed excessive or prolonged if a player continues to celebrate or demonstrate after a warning from an official.
- Two or more players engaging in prolonged, excessive, premeditated, or choreographed celebrations or demonstrations.
- Possession or use of foreign or extraneous object(s) that are not part of the uniform during the game on the field or the sideline, or using the ball as a prop.
- Removal of his helmet by a player in the field of play during a celebration or demonstration, or during a confrontation with a game official or any other player.
After Scheffler's touchdown, running back Joique Bell joined the celebration midway as Scheffler appeared to be mimicking the act of shoveling snow. That was a clear violation of the "two or more players" portion of the rule.
Lions coach Jim Schwartz said Bell's decision was "not very smart" and added: "It was one guy coming in and just in the moment right there and not making a good decision, not realizing the way that it would be interpreted."
Rodgers, meanwhile, raised the ball with his right hand as he crossed the eight-yard line on the way to the end zone. There were two Lions defenders chasing him and a third, cornerback Jacob Lacey, was closing in from Rodgers left.
In other words, Rodgers held the ball away from all three players as he ran. That's why referee Tony Corrente did not call him for taunting or baiting. Had Rodgers held the ball in the direction of any Lions player, that probably would have been a penalty.
Finally, we addressed the Lambeau Leap issue during Tuesday's SportsNation chat, but let's further enhance the answer. To be clear, the NFL wrote these rules with the idea of grandfathering in the Lambeau Leap. As long as only one player jumps into the stands, there is no penalty. By overt definition, it is not considered excessive, and it's only prolonged if the player is still in the stands when the extra point is kicked. Typically, players jump back to the field after a few seconds.
Hopefully that clears everything up -- until next time.
Now, on to our Penalty Tracker.
The parking lots are alive with 49ers fans and a few wearing Bears gear.
I'm in the pressbox and can see one one Bears player -- ball-hawking cornerback Charles Tillman -- warming up with a couple of Bears staffers.
Tillman has a league-high seven forced fumbles. He has also returned two interceptions for touchdowns. And as an NFL stats release notes, Tillman has two forced fumbles and one interception return for a score in his last two games on Monday nights. The Bears lead the NFL with 19 interceptions this season.
Tillman was working on catching passes from various angles, including lobs (perhaps to simulate a tipped ball?).
The official flip card featuring lineups and roster information shows Tony Corrente as the referee assigned to this game. Corrente was in the news recently for inadvertently swearing into a live microphone. The NFL fined him one game check. Corrente previously fought through cancer treatments to resume his officiating career in 2012.
Several 49ers players have made their way onto the field during the time since I started writing this item. They're wearing white T-shirts with black shorts, appropriate attire for the warm weather. Fans will start entering the stadium a couple hours before the 8:30 p.m. ET kickoff.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Surveying the scene from Candlestick Park a few hours before the 7-1 San Francisco 49ers and 6-2 New York Giants face one another:
- Spectacular sunshine overhead. There's haze on the horizon, but nothing to indicate anything other than a pleasant day.
- Moisture under foot. Workers are rolling up and stowing the last of the tarps used to keep previous rains from saturating the field too badly. There was lots of standing water on the tarps. Workers are using giant brooms to sweep away water along the sidelines once the tarps have been rolled up. There figure to be some slippery spots on the grass here, as usual.
- Salute to veterans. Workers have left placards in select seats spelling out the words "THANK YOU" in the upper deck and "VETERANS" in the lower stands.
- Officiating note. Tony Corrente is the referee assigned to this game. I checked his officiating stats and noticed his crews have called five of the 19 chop-block penalties against running backs since 2009. That is a league high. His crews have also called a league-high five penalties against offensive linemen for illegal blocks above the waist. His crews also rank among the top three in most combined calls for unnecessary roughness, personal fouls, unsportsmanlike conduct and taunting. Might not mean much, but things to keep in mind.
I'm settled into the press box here and will be watching the early Week 10 games involving the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals. I'll be participating in a chat throughout the 49ers' game later Sunday.
The second chart breaks down defensive pass-interference numbers by crew for the last three seasons.
The next chart breaks down offensive pass interference by crew for the 2010 season only.
Note that Coleman's crew has called only one such penalty this season, second-fewest in the league behind Seattle favorite Bill Leavy.
The next chart breaks down the offensive pass-interference calls by crew for the last three seasons.
The final chart shows three-year totals for roughing the passer, by crew.
Seattle fans might remember the controversial roughing penalty against Seahawks defensive end Raheem Brock during the team's defeat at New Orleans in Week 11.
The pivotal play did not draw a fine, tacit admission that referee Mike Carey's crew erred on the call.
Coleman's crews have only four roughing calls over the last three seasons, fewest in the league among referees working continuously since 2008.
Note: All info from ESPN Stats & Information and includes declined penalties.
What it means: With all their injury struggles and issues, the Colts sit atop the AFC South with a 5-2 record, a half game better than the 5-3 Titans. With a split of the season series, the Texans lost the head-to-head edge they earned on opening day. At 4-3, Houston is in third between the Titans and the 4-4 Jaguars.
What I liked: The Colts resolve. Banged up pretty badly, they didn’t flinch. The division may be a dog fight this season, but they aren’t going to lose it on a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Texans. They avenged an opening-day loss in Houston and got their first division win against two losses this season.
What I didn’t like: Matt Schaub faced too much pressure at times. But he posted a 14.6 passer rating in the first half, when he threw a terrible interception that Kelvin Hayden turned into a 25-yard touchdown return. Five for 15? Really? It took a lot of work to get that rating up to 70.2.
Precision: When the Colts challenged a spot on a third-down run by Peyton Manning in the first quarter, referee Tony Corrente came back with a very specific spot, saying the line was the 42 and three-quarter yard line. Which made it a 6-yard run instead of a 5-yard run and produced a first down.
What’s next: The Texans host the San Diego Chargers while the Colts head for Philadelphia.
A few notes about Corrente and his crew from the 2009 regular season:
- They called 211 penalties for 1,583 yards. The league average was 209 penalties and 1,466 yards.
- Flags were most commonly thrown for offensive holding (42) and false starts (36).
- Darrelle Revis and the rest of the Jets' defensive backs better be careful. Corrente's crew called defensive pass interference 17 times, second most in the NFL. But they weren't whoppers. The 224 interference yards ranked seventh.
- The nine face mask flags were one behind the most of any crew.
- The six defensive holding penalties were two more than the NFL low.
- Offensive linemen should be mindful that Corrente's crew keeps an eye out for tripping. The four calls led the league.
- Physical play is OK. The crew detected unnecessary roughness seven times, while six other crews called it double-digit times. Corrente's crew called only three personal fouls all season.
Mike Sando: I have personally tracked assessed penalties and replay challenges since Mike Holmgren complained about officiating in Super Bowl XL. I also went back through records to include data since 2001. ESPN Stats & Information also tracks this information. My replay information is more detailed because it counts booth challenges, but its referee information is superior because it counts declined penalties, not just accepted ones. Its information also breaks down penalty types by crew.
Based on my records, Ron Winter's crews have assessed more penalties per game since 2003 than those headed by any of the 16 other current referees. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Winter's crew is calling more total penalties per game -- accepted plus declined -- than any other crew in 2009.
Scott Green is working the 49ers-Packers game in Week 11. Ed Hochuli is working the Seahawks-Vikings game. I'll check on the Cardinals-Rams referee once I get to the Edward Jones Dome a little later.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Based on Jim Mora's general postgame comportment Sunday, the Seahawks' coach is probably fortunate no one asked what role officiating played in the game.
Referee Don Carey, who accounted for five of 19 replay reversals through Week 2, made his league-leading sixth reversal a memorable one when he returned possession to the Bears following Matt Forte's fumble at the Seattle 1-yard line. Linebacker David Hawthorne had recovered for the Seahawks, who held a 13-0 lead at the time.
"A decision will be reversed only when the referee has indisputable visual evidence available to him," the rule book states.
This one appeared inconclusive at best.
Mora's postgame rant against kicker Olindo Mare might have read differently had anyone pressed for his thoughts on Carey's reversal. I doubt he would have the ruling, uh, acceptable.
"If you’re a kicker in the National Football League you should make those kicks -- bottom line," Mora said of Mare. "End of story. Period. No excuses. No wind, doesn’t matter. You’ve gotta makes those kicks. Especially in a game like this, where you’re kicking and fighting and scratching your tail off and you miss those kicks, it’s not acceptable. Not acceptable. Absolutely not acceptable."
Carey suffered two reversals -- and Mike Singletary's ire -- while working the 49ers-Cardinals game in Week 1. He suffered three more reversals in Week 2. The NFL's 17 referees have suffered 26 replay reversals in 48 games this season. More than a third involved calls made by Carey, a rookie referee, and second-year ref Al Riveron.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Replay officials have challenged rulings more frequently since the last time we pointed out wide disparities in replay rates during the final 2 minutes of halves.
Four referees hadn't faced a single booth-initiated challenge through Week 13. Those four referees have faced five such challenges in the last two weeks.
The challenge Walt Coleman faced in Baltimore was only the third raised against him this season in the final 2 minutes of a half, according to information I have tracked since 2003. Referees Gene Steratore, Ron Winter, Tony Corrente and Ed Hochuli have faced a combined 40 such challenges.
The NFL assigns the same replay officials to the same referees as part of an overall effort to foster continuity among crews.If replay officials applied the same standards each game, we might expect referees to face a similar number of booth-initiated challenges over time.
That was not the case in past seasons and it isn't the case in 2008. The inconsistent numbers raise the possibility of inconsistent standards for challenges.
The chart shows booth-initiated challenges by referee. NFL games featured 33 total challenges in Week 15, a season high even without the Monday night game. Total challenges have risen each week since Week 12 (from 19 to 25 to 27 to 33).
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
|Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images|
|Arizona's J.J. Arrington celebrates with Steve Breaston after scoring a touchdown in the first quarter of a 26-20 win over Seattle Sunday.|
SEATTLE -- The Arizona Cardinals had little trouble putting into perspective the significance of their latest victory.
Beating the Seattle Seahawks at Qwest Field, their personal house of horrors before Sunday, represented more than just another division victory in the ragged NFC West.
Defensive end Chike Okeafor described the victory as a "hostile takeover" within the division.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt talked about taking another step toward becoming a playoff team. Quarterback Kurt Warner reveled in earning a hard-fought victory in a place where he had always struggled.
But the words that resonated most came from the Seahawks' locker room, where Pro Bowl linebacker Lofa Tatupu easily could have slapped an asterisk on the Cardinals' performance by pointing to the long list of Seattle injuries. Instead, Tatupu acknowledged the obvious: Arizona is a playoff-caliber team learning how to win.
"As much as I would like to blame us for what happened, they are, you know, what, 7-3?" Tatupu said. "They have a good team and they've been playing that way the whole year."
The Cardinals defense still has to prove it can close out games consistently. Their offense needs to continue finding ways to manufacture yardage on the ground. Warner's seventh delay-of-game infraction of the season complicated the Cardinals' efforts to run out the clock late, proving that ill-timed penalties remain a concern.
But to hold up the Cardinals' flaws as evidence of their playoff unworthiness is to miss the point. The playoffs don't begin for nearly two months. The Cardinals are better now than they were in September and logic says they'll be better come January -- as long as Warner stays healthy.
"They've been a good team," Tatupu said, "but they've been one of those teams in the past where they get into tight games and they kind of like [say], 'Oh, hopefully we can win this game,' instead of, 'Oh, we're going to win this game.'
"That's what we saw today. We saw that side of their team and they said, 'Hey, whatever, we're just going to come out and tee it up and play the next play.' You have to give them credit."
Eight more things we learned about the Cardinals and Seahawks:
|Chris Morrison-US PRESSWIRE|
|San Francisco running back Frank Gore stumbled on his way to the end zone in the final moments against the Cardinals on Monday night.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
To hear coach Mike Singletary and offensive coordinator Mike Martz tell it, the San Francisco 49ers got a raw deal Monday night.
In reality, the 49ers might have been better off with ESPN's Mike Tirico and Ron Jaworski managing the final four seconds of their 29-24 defeat to the Arizona Cardinals.
There can be no other reasonable conclusion after a careful deconstruction of the facts.To the 49ers' credit, they acknowledged mistakes that let precious seconds run off the clock prior to the final four ticks. But if those final four seconds raised questions about the 49ers' game-management skills, the subsequent explanations from Singletary and Martz validated those questions, and then some.
Before we count the ways, let's consider the facts leading up to Michael Robinson's failed 1-yard run on the final play.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Scott Green's crew assessed zero penalties against the Patriots. Al Riveron's crew assessed one penalty against the Browns.Those figures helped bring down the overall numbers for Week 8, despite the Rams' protests.
The chart breaks down crews by referee, penalties assessed per game, replay challenges and replay reversals.The number of replay challenges per game increased every season from 2003 to 2007, but the numbers are down to their lowest levels since 2004 this season. Fewer challenges mean fewer interruptions, generally a good thing in my view.
John Parry and Jerome Boger remained the only referees without a replay reversal this season. Peter Morelli joined Green with a league-high five reversals after initially disallowing a Chiefs touchdown pass against the Jets.
Available for download: full crew-by-crew breakdowns for penalties and replay.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
NFL officiating crews have assessed between 9.3 and 16.2 penalties per game this season. The range was between 8.9 and 14.3 last season.
The chart breaks down crews by referee, penalties assessed per game, replay challenges and replay reversals.
John Parry and Jerome Boger remained the only referees without a replay reversal this season. Parry shot down Cowboys coach Wade Phillips, who had been 4-0 in challenges this season.
Ron Winter, working the Colts-Packers game, became the fifth referee to suffer two reversals in a game this season. He reversed Indy touchdowns on consecutive plays, but the Colts scored on the third try.
Scott Green, working the Seahawks-Bucs game, suffered his league-high fifth reversal of the season when Mike Holmgren challenged Ike Hilliard's fumble.
Assessed penalties have climbed over the last three weeks. The crews of Walt Anderson (49ers-Giants), Boger (Jets-Raiders) and Winter (Colts-Packers) each assessed more than 20 penalties during Week 7, the first time this season three crews have reached that total.