When Calvin Johnson fumbled the ball at the half-yard line going in for a touchdown, he seemingly cost the Detroit Lions a chance at their first victory of the season.
Except, the ball should have gone back to the Lions, half the distance to the goal, first down. Here's why.
Seconds after the fumble, Seattle Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright pursued the ball into the end zone, where he tapped the ball out of bounds for a touchback.
However, the NFL has a clear rule about batting in the end zone. Rule 12.1.8:
A player may not bat or punch: (a) a loose ball (in field of play) toward opponent's goal line; (b) a loose ball (that has touched the ground) in any direction, if it is in either end zone; (c) a backward pass in flight may not be batted forward by an offensive player.
The penalty for illegal batting is 10 yards. Because it was a live ball foul, the team last in possession -- the Lions -- would retain possession. So they would have had the ball, first and goal, down 13-10.
NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino explained that the refs missed the call:
Dean Blandino tells @nflnetwork the Seahawks should have been penalized for batting the ball out of the end zone on Calvin Johnson’s fumble.— Around The NFL (@AroundTheNFL) October 6, 2015
However, he added that the play was not reviewable.
In case you might argue that it wasn't intentional, after the game, Wright said that, yes, it was:
KJ Wright said he batted the ball out. Didn't want to take a chance diving on it. He didn't know the rule— Brian Floyd (@BrianMFloyd) October 6, 2015
As you can see, the back judge had a perfectly clear view of the ball:
Let the conspiracy theories begin. Some people are saying that a "bat" must include a large swinging of the arm:
Second look at it. Because there is no "wind up" to hit the ball, it's not a bat. Not a foul. Initially I saw more of a swipe— Football Zebras (@footballzebras) October 6, 2015
That is not remotely true. In the NFL's rulebook, the definition of a "bat" is broad and clear: "A Bat or Punch is the intentional striking of the ball with hand, fist, elbow, or forearm." All it takes is the intentional striking of a ball, which is exactly what happened.
The refs didn't "lose this game for the Lions." Calvin Johnson blew it with the fumble. And people have no idea how difficult it is to officiate a football game, how many rules and exceptions to rules there are in the NFL rule book. For example, in the field of play it's only an illegal bat if it's batted forward. The end zone is kind of like an "exception" that forbids any batting.
But still, expect an apology from the NFL on Tuesday morning.
Cyd Zeigler is a high school and college football official in Southern California.
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