SEATTLE -- Nobody knew. As the clock wound down and the Seahawks finished off the Lions, the focus was on a great play by Kam Chancellor to pop the ball out of Calvin Johnson's hands and into the end zone. There was no real sign that anything might've been amiss on the Lions' final offensive play, even after media gathered around lockers for the postgame scrums.
There was a solid 30-minute lag between the time K.J. Wright swatted the football out of the end zone to preserve a Seahawks win and the realization that the referees might have blown the call.
It wasn't until walking out of the locker room and catching a suddenly heated debate on ESPN about Wright batting the ball out of the end zone that it became apparent there was some kind of controversy. After running back into the locker room and finding Wright, a small group of reporters asked whether he batted the ball out of bounds. He answered affirmatively without hesitation before elaborating on what was going through his head.
"As soon as Calvin went down, I saw the ball bouncing, bouncing, bouncing and I was running so I just tried to knock it out," Wright said. "I wanted to just knock it out of bounds and not try to catch it and fumble it," he continued. "I just tried to make a good play for my team."
He, like most, had no idea the play was illegal, and seemed caught off guard by the sudden controversy. In the blink of an eye, the conversation shifted from Chancellor's punch to Wright's bat. It spread through the locker room -- after the initial waves of interviews, with the locker room more or less cleared out -- by word of mouth.
In a surreal moment, a small group of reporters informed Wright that batting the ball out of the end zone was illegal, creating a firestorm outside the four walls of the locker room. It still didn't register with him or others.
Me: Did you knock the ball out of bounds? K.J. Wright: Is that illegal? Explain that to me.— Danny O'Neil (@dannyoneil) October 6, 2015
Me: I don’t think you can deliberately bat it out of bounds. K.J. Wright: People do it all the time, though.— Danny O'Neil (@dannyoneil) October 6, 2015
Bennett walked by as Carroll was explaining to Wright that he got away w/ a penalty. Bennett: "Hey K.J., that's a smart-(expletive) play!"— Brady Henderson (@BradyHenderson) October 6, 2015
Here's the thing: In that moment, with bodies flying around and the ball bouncing in the end zone, Wright, like Chancellor, made a heads up play. A lot of bad things can happen when a player tries to grab, or dive on, a bouncing ball. We see it just about every time a ball hits the turf: More often than not it ends up squirting around, out of the hands of the player who first lunges at it. Wright took the bouncing ball variable out of the equation by simply swatting it out of bounds. The ball may have tumbled harmlessly out of the end zone on its own, but Wright didn't bother leaving things up to chance.
A Detroit player could've pounced on the ball, putting it back at the one. Worse yet for the Seahawks, in the unlikely, but not impossible, chance that the ball ended back up the hands of Johnson, the Lions would've put six on the board, giving Seattle's offense about 1:45 to drive the length of the field to win the game. So Wright made what he thought was the safe and smart play.
Was it legal? Absolutely not. Did anyone know it was illegal? Judging by the immediate reaction to the play, and how long it took for the conversation to shift to the rulebook, very few did. And because Wright accidentally shined a spotlight on the somewhat obscure illegal batting in the end zone rule, you're unlikely to see anything like this again -- there will be discussion about the rule both now and in the offseason, and you can bet every referee in the league will make sure similar situations are flagged.
There's one more reason to celebrate the brilliance of Wright's swat. In a forgettable slog of a game that very much lacked entertainment, Wright gave everyone something to talk about, debate and heatedly argue for the foreseeable future. In the grand scheme of things, it's all very silly.
On a play involving Johnson, a man who already has a rule named after him, just a few feet from a spot already infamous for the Fail Mary -- another Monday night controversy -- Wright wrote his name into the history books with one quick swat. The Bat, and the controversy that followed, will forever be associated with Wright. You can't script it better than this.
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