The Referee Tucked It Up

Tandler's Redskins Blog Ver. 10.10.05--The referee was wrong in applying the Tuck Rule to overturn a safety call against the Redskins.

You can reach me by email at rtandler@comcast.net

Here is the third-quarter play from the NFL Gamebook:

3-5-DEN 7 (9:25) 16-J.Plummer to DEN 0 for -7 yards. FUMBLES, and recovers at DEN 0. 16-J.Plummer tackled in End Zone, SAFETY (32-A.Jimoh). Play Challenged by DEN and REVERSED. 16-J.Plummer pass incomplete to 80-R.Smith.

Here is what happened. On third and five from his own seven, Jake Plummer went back to pass. He took a short drop back to about the one. The right-hander pumped and didn't throw. No defender was anywhere close to making contact with him. As the ball started to come down, he sort of tried to get control of it with his left hand. He failed to do so, making contact with the ball only briefly with his left hand if at all The ball came out of his right hand and, solely from the momentum provided by his arm, the ball bounced into the end zone. With no defender anywhere near him still, Plummer ran back and recovered the ball while still on his feet. Before he could look for anyone to throw to or try to run, the Redskins' Ade Jimoh tackled him in the end zone. The official in the end zone signaled a safety.

Mike Shanahan brought out the red flag. Referee Peter Morelli reviewed the play on the sideline, came back out, conferred with other officials, and then went back under the hood to review again. He then turned on the microphone and stated:

After reviewing the play, the quarterback's arm was going forward, it is a tuck. Incomplete pass, fourth down.


The relevant word here, of course, is "tuck", shorthand for the Tuck Rule. It became famous a few years back when the Patriots' stayed alive in their first Super Bowl run after it was applied after what everyone thought was a game-ending fumble by Tom Brady that the Raiders had recovered. The officials, after a replay review, said that the applicable rule was Rule 3 ("Definitions"), Section 21 ("Pass and Passer"), Article 2, Note 2 of the official NFL rules. That rule states the following:

"When a Team A player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his hand starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body. Also, if a player has tucked the ball into his body and then loses possession, it is a fumble.

Also of relevance in Sunday's game is what immediately follows in the rule book, which is Note 3:

If the player loses possession of the ball while attempting to recock his arm, it is a fumble.

Don't forget that, it becomes critical later on here.

In this particular case, Morelli also applied Rule 3, Section 21, Article 2, Note 2 to this play and ruled it an incomplete pass.

He was wrong.

First of all, does anyone else find Morelli's explanation for the reversal curious? Here it is again:

After reviewing the play, the quarterback's arm was going forward, it is a tuck. Incomplete pass, fourth down.

He had to go under the hood twice to figure that out? If all that was required was that the quarterback's arm be moving forward at some point during the play, why go to replay at all? Plummer was in the clear, he wasn't surrounded by defenders, there was no dispute that his arm was moving forward at some point during the play. If no official was watching the quarterback, which is hard to believe, then it should have taken Morelli about six seconds under the hood to determine that Plummer's arm went forward. End of review.

But Morelli did not do so, he had to review further. That's because the rules do not make a quarterback immune from fumbling if he moves his arm forward and any point during the play. No, that's not the case, otherwise there would be no need for Note 2, the key phrase being, "even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body."

His arm needs to be moving forward and something else needs to happen after that for the Tuck Rule to be applicable.

So, here's the nut of the issue:

Exactly at what point in time was Plummer "attempting" to tuck the ball back toward his body?

If the words "attempting to tuck the ball toward his body" mean anything, and words in rulebooks are supposed to mean specific things, Morelli has to recognize something to indicate that Plummer was "attempting" to tuck the ball away. You can watch the play again and again (and, sorry, we won't put up video of the play here. We respect copyrights here and we don't illegally post videos here despite what other sites may choose to do. And we have that policy in spite of the fact that this network is owned by the entity that broadcasts the games. We don't have their permission, we don't do it.) and you can't find a time where you can say that Plummer was attempting to tuck the ball away. You may find a point in time where he's thinking, "Shoot, I'd better get this thing tucked away," but the rule says nothing about intent or thought, it says "attempting". It just didn't happen.

I could look at that replay, in fact, and think just as well that Plummer is attempting to recock his arm by bringing his left hand towards the ball. That would bring Note 3 from above into play, meaning that it's a fumble.

So, Morelli looked at the video and, based on his supposition that Plummer moved his left hand towards the ball in an attempt to tuck and not to recock or just to desperately flail at a ball that he knew was about to come out of his hands, reversed the call on the field.

Such a judgment may have been acceptable had the ruling on the field not been a fumble and safety. The standard for reversing a call on the field is supposed to be "indisputable visual evidence". That's visual evidence. Not getting inside the quarterback's head and drawing a conclusion about what he was trying to do.

The reversal, therefore, was not a proper one.

One other complaint about the reversal; it was a sloppy one. There was 9:22 left on the third-quarter clock when ball slipped out of Plummer's hand and hit the ground. When Denver punted, there was 9:15 left. The clock should have stopped as soon as the ball hit the ground on the "incompletion". So the chase for the ball and Jimoh's tackle took time off the clock, but they didn't exist because the pass was incomplete. They should have reset the clock to around 9:22. It was the finishing sloppy touch on a very sloppy call.

By the way, don't bring up this section of the NFL Rules Digest from NFL.com under "Protecting the Passer":

When a passer is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional movement forward of his arm starts a forward pass. If a defensive player contacts the passer or the ball after forward movement begins, and the ball leaves the passer's hand, a forward pass is ruled, regardless of where the ball strikes the ground or a player

First of all, it's just a digest of the rules, not the actual rules. Second, this only applies when a defensive player contacts the quarterback and that clearly did not happen.

Finally, there is no conspiracy theory being posited here. I don't think that anyone is out to get anyone or that somehow the league wanted the Redskins to lose. Frankly, I think that anyone who believes that things are somehow fixed or that grudges are carried out in any systematic fashion and still watches the games is a moron. I just think that Morelli made a human mistake, one that cost the Redskins two points and, possibly the football game.


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You can reach me by email at rtandler@comcast.net

Here is the third-quarter play from the NFL Gamebook:

3-5-DEN 7 (9:25) 16-J.Plummer to DEN 0 for -7 yards. FUMBLES, and recovers at DEN 0. 16-J.Plummer tackled in End Zone, SAFETY (32-A.Jimoh). Play Challenged by DEN and REVERSED. 16-J.Plummer pass incomplete to 80-R.Smith.

Here is what happened. On third and five from his own seven, Jake Plummer went back to pass. He took a short drop back to about the one. The right-hander pumped and didn't throw. No defender was anywhere close to making contact with him. As the ball started to come down, he sort of tried to get control of it with his left hand. He failed to do so, making contact with the ball only briefly with his left hand if at all The ball came out of his right hand and, solely from the momentum provided by his arm, the ball bounced into the end zone. With no defender anywhere near him still, Plummer ran back and recovered the ball while still on his feet. Before he could look for anyone to throw to or try to run, the Redskins' Ade Jimoh tackled him in the end zone. The official in the end zone signaled a safety.

Mike Shanahan brought out the red flag. Referee Peter Morelli reviewed the play on the sideline, came back out, conferred with other officials, and then went back under the hood to review again. He then turned on the microphone and stated:

After reviewing the play, the quarterback's arm was going forward, it is a tuck. Incomplete pass, fourth down.


The relevant word here, of course, is \"tuck\", shorthand for the Tuck Rule. It became famous a few years back when the Patriots' stayed alive in their first Super Bowl run after it was applied after what everyone thought was a game-ending fumble by Tom Brady that the Raiders had recovered. The officials, after a replay review, said that the applicable rule was Rule 3 (\"Definitions\"), Section 21 (\"Pass and Passer\"), Article 2, Note 2 of the official NFL rules. That rule states the following:

"When a Team A player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his hand starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body. Also, if a player has tucked the ball into his body and then loses possession, it is a fumble.

Also of relevance in Sunday's game is what immediately follows in the rule book, which is Note 3:

If the player loses possession of the ball while attempting to recock his arm, it is a fumble.

Don't forget that, it becomes critical later on here.

In this particular case, Morelli also applied Rule 3, Section 21, Article 2, Note 2 to this play and ruled it an incomplete pass.

He was wrong.

First of all, does anyone else find Morelli's explanation for the reversal curious? Here it is again:

After reviewing the play, the quarterback's arm was going forward, it is a tuck. Incomplete pass, fourth down.

He had to go under the hood twice to figure that out? If all that was required was that the quarterback's arm be moving forward at some point during the play, why go to replay at all? Plummer was in the clear, he wasn't surrounded by defenders, there was no dispute that his arm was moving forward at some point during the play. If no official was watching the quarterback, which is hard to believe, then it should have taken Morelli about six seconds under the hood to determine that Plummer's arm went forward. End of review.

But Morelli did not do so, he had to review further. That's because the rules do not make a quarterback immune from fumbling if he moves his arm forward and any point during the play. No, that's not the case, otherwise there would be no need for Note 2, the key phrase being, \"even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body.\"

His arm needs to be moving forward and something else needs to happen after that for the Tuck Rule to be applicable.

So, here's the nut of the issue:

Exactly at what point in time was Plummer \"attempting\" to tuck the ball back toward his body?

If the words \"attempting to tuck the ball toward his body\" mean anything, and words in rulebooks are supposed to mean specific things, Morelli has to recognize something to indicate that Plummer was \"attempting\" to tuck the ball away. You can watch the play again and again (and, sorry, we won't put up video of the play here. We respect copyrights here and we don't illegally post videos here despite what other sites may choose to do. And we have that policy in spite of the fact that this network is owned by the entity that broadcasts the games. We don't have their permission, we don't do it.) and you can't find a time where you can say that Plummer was attempting to tuck the ball away. You may find a point in time where he's thinking, \"Shoot, I'd better get this thing tucked away,\" but the rule says nothing about intent or thought, it says \"attempting\". It just didn't happen.

I could look at that replay, in fact, and think just as well that Plummer is attempting to recock his arm by bringing his left hand towards the ball. That would bring Note 3 from above into play, meaning that it's a fumble.

So, Morelli looked at the video and, based on his supposition that Plummer moved his left hand towards the ball in an attempt to tuck and not to recock or just to desperately flail at a ball that he knew was about to come out of his hands, reversed the call on the field.

Such a judgment may have been acceptable had the ruling on the field not been a fumble and safety. The standard for reversing a call on the field is supposed to be \"indisputable visual evidence\". That's visual evidence. Not getting inside the quarterback's head and drawing a conclusion about what he was trying to do.

The reversal, therefore, was not a proper one.

One other complaint about the reversal; it was a sloppy one. There was 9:22 left on the third-quarter clock when ball slipped out of Plummer's hand and hit the ground. When Denver punted, there was 9:15 left. The clock should have stopped as soon as the ball hit the ground on the \"incompletion\". So the chase for the ball and Jimoh's tackle took time off the clock, but they didn't exist because the pass was incomplete. They should have reset the clock to around 9:22. It was the finishing sloppy touch on a very sloppy call.

By the way, don't bring up this section of the NFL Rules Digest from NFL.com under \"Protecting the Passer\":

When a passer is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional movement forward of his arm starts a forward pass. If a defensive player contacts the passer or the ball after forward movement begins, and the ball leaves the passer's hand, a forward pass is ruled, regardless of where the ball strikes the ground or a player

First of all, it's just a digest of the rules, not the actual rules. Second, this only applies when a defensive player contacts the quarterback and that clearly did not happen.

Finally, there is no conspiracy theory being posited here. I don't think that anyone is out to get anyone or that somehow the league wanted the Redskins to lose. Frankly, I think that anyone who believes that things are somehow fixed or that grudges are carried out in any systematic fashion and still watches the games is a moron. I just think that Morelli made a human mistake, one that cost the Redskins two points and, possibly the football game.

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