Plausible Deniability, Part One

"Just when I thought I was out...they pull me back in!" Yes, just when your intrepid Editor had decided to put the debacle that was Super Bowl XL behind him, up came that magical, mystical Head Zebra. Bad trip, dude...because after what we heard on the NFL Network today, things seem more confusing than ever.

Well, good for ol’ Mike Pereira. The NFL’s Director of Officiating finally scurried out of his hidey-hole long enough to address some of the more egregious calls put forth by Bill Leavy and his crew of trained orangutans in Super Bowl XL. Of course, when you’re dealing with Pereira (“Baghdad Bob” to his friends), you’re going to be swimming in double-speak and disinformation.

So it was on Wednesday’s edition of the NFL Network’s “Total Access”, when Pereira was “interrogated” by Rich Eisen. Before any further “opinionatin’” takes place, we will simply let fly with an exact transcript of the “Official Review” segment:

Eisen: Joining us right now – Mike Pereira. Joining us from NFL Headquarters in New York. Mike, good to see you. How are you?

Pereira: I’m doing great, Rich – great to see you.

Eisen: Let’s talk about the Super Bowl – it’s certainly on a lot of people’s minds still – the officiating in this ballgame, and five plays in particular. We’d like to get with you…your thoughts right now. Starting with the Darrell Jackson pass interference. This should have been, in the minds of the Seattle Seahawks, the first touchdown of Super Bowl XL. Darrell Jackson with the touchdown, and you see the flag thrown there by the back judge for offensive pass interference on Chris Hope (Note: Eisen obviously meant to say, “Darrell Jackson”). My question to you is: Why is this a foul?

Pereira: Well, it’s a foul because you can’t push off, and let’s take a look at the play. .We’ll see the whole pattern than he runs, and I want you to focus on the defensive player, which is what we’re focusing on here. His action – does the shove with the right arm, knock (Hope) off and create separation? Watch the feet of the defensive player. Clearly pushes him backwards. To me, this was a non-issue when I saw it on replay. It’s the kind of play where if it wasn’t called, I would downgrade the official.

Two things have to happen here: You have to see a shove, with an extension of the arm by the offensive player, which Jackson does here, and it has to create separation. The defensive player is standing – his feet are set – does the shove push him backwards? That’s the question that had to be answered, and it does (sic). This is offensive pass interference, and – again – has to be called.

Eisen: It also doesn’t look to me, Mike, as if Jackson’s the only one making contact there. It looks like Chris Hope has his hands on (Jackson). Why no penalty for illegal contact downfield, past five yards, at the very least?

Pereira: That was actually one of my greater concerns when I watched the play. Was there illegal contact beyond five yards? If we take a look at this here, I just want to point out something. In the year 2005, we basically shrunk the pocket, so that the pocket is the same on all types of plays, whether it’s intentional grounding or illegal contact. It’s the outside foor of the tackle, so here’s your pocket (points to the right foot of right tackle Sean Locklear). Here’s your pocket – right here. It’s off the right foot of the right tackle. Watch Hasselbeck – what he’s going to do is to roll immediately out of the pocket. So knowing that that line ran right through the center of the Super Bowl logo, you’re going to see that Hasselbeck gets his feet completely out of the pocket. Once you are outside the pocket, and this is early in the route, and this is before any break in the route, then you can put your hands on the offensive player as long as the pass hasn’t been thrown yet.

He does come back in the pocket, but again it needs to be pointed out that once you leave the pocket, the pocket disintegrates. The defender has the right to put his hands in the offensive player. You can’t hold him, but you can certainly put your hands on him.

Eisen: Assuming Hope knew where the pocket was. Let’s move to the next play here – the first touchdown of the game, officially – Ben Roethlisberger with a keeper in the second quarter. He goes into the end zone – I guess. The thing that really interests me is…here’s the head linesman with one hand up, which would signify initially that he’s not in, and he then signifies a touchdown a few steps later. My question is did he figure that Roethlisberger wasn’t in here (end zone line shot, showing D.D. Lewis keeping the ball out of the end zone) and saw the ball once again in the end zone, and then signified that it’s a touchdown? Why is this a touchdown in the minds of the officials?

Pereira: Well, I would say that the mechanics – as you pointed out – weren’t ideal. Because when he does raise his right hand, it’s almost like a progress stop there at that point. But I think when Mark (Hittner) was coming into the play, you can see that he was coming in, in the field of play. You know, you reformulate your thoughts, and, I mean, and that’s part of officiating. You do have the ability – things happen so quickly – to change your mind. So while he may have initially raised that hand, and looking at the ball short of the goal line on the ground, he then put the whole thing together and felt that the ball did break the plane on the initial dive. I think that’s what he end up having to take a look at here – where is the ball?

If we stop and take it in sequence, the one thing we can see os that the ball is in Ben’s arm here, tucked into the shoulder, basically, into the forearm, and the questions is: How far does this get, and does it break the plane? We know what happens once he hits the ground – the ball is dead and it can’t be scooted in – but in replay, this became the issue. And when you get to this frame here…I think, Rich…I think it’s a touchdown. I can’t tell though. If Mark on the field would have ended up ruling it short, we would have stayed short because it’s just not absolutely conclusive enough. But remember – just the tip of the ball must break the plane. His helmet doesn’t make any difference – it’s clearly across, his left hand doesn’t make any difference, it’s the ball tucked in the right arm. I think the tip breaks the plane of the goal line, but I can’t be sure. It’s one of those that – whatever way it ends up being called in the field, it’s gong to stay that way.

Eisen: Right…I know, but that’s why it seems so quizzical to me that the head linesman would hold up one arm…and I guess he’s thinking of whether the ball crossed the goal before he signifies a touchdown? That’s the process he’s going through? Because it looked to me that he’d already made his decision by raising his arm in the air.

Pereira: Well, it looks to me like he got confused on his initial signal – because when you look at him, he’s coming down the goal line. With his left foot on the goal line, coming in on the goal line, would signify that he does have the ball breaking the plane. But I really do think that as he started in, he got confused and raised one hand and then realized that he should have raised two. My question is not whether one or two was raised – my questions is, “Is it or is it now a touchdown?” Officials get together and make an eventual ruling. If that eventual ruling ends up to be touchdown, no matter what his first fleeting thought was, if he did rule touchdown, then we’ve got to go back and prove it not to be a touchdown. And this is one of so many plays we seem to have in this game that were so tight, and were big, and it was just one of these that whatever the call on the field, that’s what it was going to stay.

Eisen: Alright, let’s move to play #3 – moments after that Roethlisberger score, and the Seahawks trying to score before the half, once again here comes Darrell Jackson in a play and Hasselbeck puts it up there and Jackson gets one foot…and it LOOKS as if it’s a touchdown at first blush, but your official is right on it, saying, “No touchdown.” You can see Jackson get one foot in, and his right leg brushes the pylon. So many times, we see the ball touching the pylon, we see somebody in possession of the ball bring the ball on the out of bounds portion of the pylon, and it’s called a touchdown. Why is this not a score?

Pereira: This rule was actually changed, and we’ll take a look at it, it was actually changed three years ago. The pylon has certainly created a lot of discussion. Up until three years ago, if you were a player, and you touched a pylon, that automatically put you out of bounds. No matter where you touched it – if you touched it at the very tip, or hit it in the middle – if you touched it, you were out of bounds. Then, based on a Thanksgiving game in Detroit where a player’s foot brushed a pylon and than came back in bounds, we changed the rule to say, “If a player – not the ball – touches a pylon, he is not deemed to be either in bounds or out of bounds.” It’s virtually ignored, and what you will then determine is where that foot then touches. Does it touch in bounds or out of bounds?

Now, in order to complete a pass, and we’re talking about feet, you’ve got to have two feet in bounds. Two feet come down in bounds. Here we have the left foot down, now, right foot has scraped the pylon. It’s ignored. By rule, you just ignore that when a player touches it. So now, where does the second foot hit? The second foot hits out of bounds, making that an incomplete pass. Ball touching the pylon causes the ball to be dead. Player touching the pylon does not make him “dead” until he either touches the ground out of bounds or if he came, second foot in bounds, it would have been a completed pass.

My take on the three calls discussed is as follows:

Jackson’s offensive PI: I want to know one thing - If you are watching a receiver and a cornerback come to the end zone from your far right to your right center, and you see contact on both sides, and this contact forces you as an official to watch this contact more closely, how on earth can you see Hasselbeck break the pocket from what would essentially be the left side of your head-on view, but going away from that view to your left? I have 20-20 vision and I can’t say I’d trust my peripheral vision enough to make that call. Pereira had to draw a line with the Telestrator to signify the end of the pocket, and he had to run the play in slow motion from the opposing view. That view (the “Seahawks-eye-view” has no players in the way – it’s a clear shot. The back judge in this case did not have a fully unobstructed view.

In the back view (first angle shown) when the camera goes from Jackson and Hope alone to the overall view of the play, you can see that at this time. Hasselbeck is in the pocket. He is moving from his right to his left, but there is no indication he’s been out of the pocket at all – he’s around the center at that point. Where and when did the back judge see it?

If the call of contact goes to Hope based on intent (knowing Hasselbeck had dissolved the pocket), the back judge would have to see Hasselbeck break the pocket while somehow watching contact…OR, there would have been that one millisecond that the official could have actually seen Hasselbeck move to the outside of where Locklear’s foot used to be. Of course, then, he’d have to make the judgment call.

How realistic does that sound to you?

Roethlisberger’s “touchdown”:
First of all, it’s abundantly clear that the linesman made a frenetic one-armed call – he is running toward the play and waving the arm. D.D. Lewis had stopped Roethlisberger behind the goal line (where Roethlisberger may have traveled before then is another matter).

In looking at the replay from a top end zone angle directly opposite the linesman, it appears that he’s calling the ball down somewhere in the vicinity of the one-yard line at first. Pereira’s claim that the official’s positioning with one arm up somehow signifies touchdown is disingenuous at best and bizarre at worst – it the guy saw a touchdown, why didn’t he just raise two hands at the very start?

The answer to that question is where it gets REALLY weird – Pereira’s contention that the linesman “got confused and raised one hand and then realized that he should have raised two” strains credulity. I would ask Mike Pereira at this point – as the NFL’s Director of Officiating, do you really want to say on national television that the head linesman that graded higher than any other cannot realize and act upon the difference between a one-armed and a two-armed signal?


Regarding the touchdown – there’s a point at which the ball, at some angles (mainly head-on and close-in stop motion), appears to POSSIBLY cross the plane when Roethlisberger’s still in the air. Just the tip, but that’s all that’s needed. If the linesman would have made that call right off the bat…well, who knows? Maybe there would be a little shred of credibility left for these people.

As it is, you’re faced with one of two options: Either the official called a no-touchdown and reversed his call (quite possibly based on Roethlisberger advancing the ball after he was down), or you’re dealing with a guy who is incapable of knowing the difference between a touchdown and a no-touchdown signal.

If the latter is the case, and that guy’s wearing a zebra suit in the freakin’ Super Bowl…why are we even bothering to support the National Football League?

Jackson’s “Pylon Call”: Mike Sando of the Tacoma News Tribune detailed this play in quite respectable detail on his blog – I will refer you there for the full explanation and include a brief passage here:

I do own the "Official Rules of the NFL" book (2005 Game Action Edition). A couple of notations from the book:

Rule 3, Section 2, Article 6 reads, "A player is inbounds when he first touches both feet or any other part of his body, other than his hands, to the ground within the boundary lines."

Rule 3, Section 20, Article 1 reads, "A player or an Official is out of bounds when he touches: (a) a boundary line; or (b) anything other than a player, an official, or a pylon on or outside a boundary line."

This implies that a player is not out of bounds when he touches a pylon. It does not say touching a pylon with your second foot serves as getting the second foot down inbounds.

I have seen references to a 2002 provision purporting that "a player who touches a pylon remains in-bounds until any part of his body touches the ground out-of-bounds." What does this mean? In Jackson's case, it might mean that he wasn't out of bounds when his foot/leg hit the pylon. I am not a referee. Mike Pereira, NFL director of officiating, will presumably address officiating matters on NFL Network. I would be surprised to learn that the pylon play should have been a touchdown.

I really have nothing to add to this because I never thought this play was a touchdown, nor did the majority of the people I have discussed the game with. This play and Jerramy Stevens’ fumble are the two where even Seahawks fans will generally say, “Okay, they got those right – even if by accident, they got those plays right.” In my opinion, Pereira is including this play as a red herring (or, as Madeline Kahn might have said in 'Blazing Saddles', “A Wed Hewwing.”) to divert attention away from the truly horrific number of non-calls against the Steelers that still have not been put under the microscope.

In any case, I was disappointed that this play was one of the five discussed.

Tomorrow, we will conclude with the transcript of Eisen’s and Pereira’s discussion of the Sean Locklear “hold” (this one is a real beaut) and the ridiculous illegal block call on Matt Hasselbeck.

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him at Top Stories