Tuesday, November 18, 2008

When NFL Rules Become Weapons of Mass Confusion. Who Benefits?

I saw the Steelers vs. Chargers game this weekend; the whole 11-10 debacle. That was an insane game to watch, especially being a Steeler fan. You do not have to be a die hard fan to know that life in sports is usually a 2-way street. You either win or lose. You win or you go home. That is it. In a league as competitive as the NFL, this one sporting truth is all the more glearing. All parties involved will do anything and everything possible to win a game even if it means cheating. Rules are made to keep some sort of order but a fierce competitor, as there is in the NFL, will do anything possible to win - including breaking the rules. This is the nature of the game. This is sport for all diehards. All the more reason why there needs to be Rules than can be enforced and personnel that can enforce these rules during competition. Without this, we open the door to unbiased, unabashed and unrelenting competition which will have a tendency to get messy. This is the pandora's box that might be opened by the Steelers game on Sunday.

For those that missed the game here is a quick summary of the situation. Down 10-8 with less than a minute left and sitting on 2nd and goal, the Pittsburgh Steelers had a few choices to close out the game. They could take a knee, watch the clock run down to 1 second and kick a field goal. They could run a dummy run play (HB Dive or something similar) to keep the clock running. They could try to score by either by passing the pigskin or by running the ball. Or, they could just let the play clock wind down and take a penalty. These were the choices the Steelers had because of the time left on the clock and the fact that the Chargers had no more timeouts left to burn (Chargers could not stop the game). Of all these choices, the logical move would have been to run the clock down to 1 second, kick a field goal and walk off with a win because kicking from that distance is pretty much a given in the NFL. But...the Steelers chose to run a play. It did not hit me right away why they would run a play but then i figured it out once the play was ran.

Here is why: Willie Parker ran off tackle to the left and in his usual FWP style he bounced the play outside the tackle and walked into the endzone; Touchdown! Game over, 14-10 right? Wrong. The referee made a holding call on the play (a valid one as it turned out) and the play was reversed. The key things to note here are: a, Steelers were penalized 10 yards on the play in addition to not getting a touchdown; b, it was the 13th penalty against the Steelers and, c, a field goal from this distance was no longer a "gimme" in the NFL. The fact that the penalty was a holding call, something that happens on virtually every snap in an NFL game cristalizes this point. The fact that the Chargers up to this point only had 1 penalty called against them and the fact that all the Steeler penalties have been drive killers made it clear to me. There was no point in running another play. The Steelers decided to forfeit the opportunity to score a Touchdown by kicking the field goal on 3rd down (the next play). The reason they did this was to make sure they got a score before the Referees gave them another "penalty". Kudos to the Steeler coaching staff for being on point on this one. The field goal try put the game at 11-10; advantage Steelers.

The Steelers kicked the ball off to the Chargers and that left them with 5 seconds to score a field goal with no timeout. Naturally, the Chargers decided to pass the ball and try to score using hook and laterals. In this process game the defining moment of this game. LaDanian Tomlinson caught the ball and lateralled it to one of his teammates (Chambers) who tried to lateral the ball to another teamate; in this process, Troy Polamalu happened. He punched away the 2nd lateral, picked up the loose ball and ran into the endzone for the game winning score 17-10. On any other day this would have been the highlight/play of the day. An amazing finish to another close to the wire NFL game. The continuing proof of the parity in pro football. Unfortunately, the NFL since its inception had never had an 11-10. It was a oddity in the game which only occurred because of an earlier safety scored by the Steelers when Harrison tackled Rivers in the endzone during the first half. I believe it makes for an alternative finish; a moment to be celebrated by the league for years to come. The immaculate game or something or the other. The NFL realized the potential occurrence, the referees realized it too, the play-by-play announced the oddity as well, all viewers knew it; except, Troy Polamalu had other plans when he picked up that loose ball. He reacted. All those years of training, his instinct was to grab the ball and run for the endzone, which he did and in the process spoilt the fantatic, once in a livetime finish that everyone had been about to witness. Naturally, this created some confusion for EVERYBODY! Troy Polamalu just killed any chance of an 11-10 finish. It was over. Or so we thought.

The final Chargers play was put into review and the LaDanian Tomlinson play was called an illegal backwards pass which would have ended the play (meaning everything after that pass was inconsequential), the game was over. I know, it works out conveniently for the league and its history books. We have the 1st 11-10 game in NFL history and it was upheld. The only question now is: At what cost? How do we interprete backwards lateral going forward? How much power do officials have to replay review a play when no penalty is called on the field of play? How much power does the replay booth have in deciding a game? Is it okay to justify terrible officiating if it benefits the league? So many questions come to mind. It throws into question everything thing about the rules and this is something that will possibly come back to bite the League in the butt. Now that they have opened pandora's box.

[For a quick review of the game rules as dictated by the NFL, please see http://www.nfl.com/rulebook ]

You be the judge.


Deoye aka "Smashmauf"


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