Sunday's Saints-Bucs game was one of the wildest encounters of the NFL season. Drew Brees threw for over 300 yards and 4 TDs in the first half. Jospeh Morgan did this. Malcolm Jenkins chased down Vincent Jackson at the 1 yard line after a 95 yard reception. And, Tampa Bay came from 35-21 down in the 4th Quarter to have one last chance at the 9 yard line with 5 seconds left to tie the game with a touchdown.
The ensuing sequence has been the most talked about play from Week 7. Tampa Bay receiver Mike Williams caught what appeared to be the tying touchdown in the back of the endzone after QB Josh Freeman scrambled out of the pocket. However, a flag was thrown and the catch was ruled illegal touching as Williams had been pushed out of the back of the endzone by Saints CB Corey White. Game over. It's the first time I can remember seeing a game end on an illegal touching penalty on an apparent touchdown. While not quite the jump ball, dual ruling, Hail Mary from Seattle, it was a bizarre way to end an NFL game.
Much of the confusion over the illegal touching call came from Fox botching the ending. John Lynch, a former Pro Bowl safety, tried to argue Williams re-established himself in bounds as an eligible receiver… which had absolutely no bearing on the illegal touching flag. When the official call was finally made, both Lynch and Dick Stockton glossed over the call and Lynch's erroneous attempt at an explanation…
You have to go to this link to watch the NFL's unembeddable video. First, there was no illegal contact penalty on White because Freeman was out of the pocket. Second, Williams can't go out of bounds (forcibly or not) and be the first person to touch the ball on a forward pass. That's illegal touching and there's no doubt the correct call was made.* The doubt came from the Fox booth and no subsequent explanation of what exactly happened until rules analyst Mike Pereira came on in the postgame to fully explain the call on the field.
*This led to the amusing evolution of the conversation surrounding the play. First came the outcry of another terrible "replacement ref" worthy game-ending call. Then, when it was finally discovered the correct call was made, it was suddenly the fault of the rule(s) because a football game isn't supposed to end on something as weak as an illegal touching call and there's JUST SOMETHING WE HAVE TO BE ANGRY AT!!!
llegal touching is a common enough rule that the analyst has to know there's no such thing as a receiver re-establishing himself in bounds and becoming an eligible receiver in this situation. It's horrible timing for Lynch since this was on a potential game-tying touchdown on the last play of the game, but this does happen. No analyst is going to bat 1.000 with the NFL rulebook.
The bigger problem was Lynch and Stockton not giving a full explanation of what happened after the initial confusion and correcting themselves. Instead, after the official announcement, all we got from Stockton is "still ineligible apparently." You don't say! In an NFL broadcast, dealing with "apparently" isn't good enough.
Still though, I can give both Stockton and Lynch some leeway. As much as we poke fun at Stockton, this is one of the more unique ways for a game to end and it's clear he and Lynch were in need of some help. Again, with the nuclear physics like complexity of the NFL rulebook, there are times when this will happen, especially with the added frenzy of this being the last play of the game.
Fox, this is why you have this guy! Remember him?
Where was Mike Pereira seconds after the illegal touching call was made? This is the one trump card Fox holds over every other network that broadcasts NFL games, and they didn't use it when it mattered most. Instead, Pereira came on in the studio afterwards to walk viewers through the illegal touching flag. Pereira needed to be on the air immediately after the play, heck, he should have done play by play for all I care, just to ensure he would be there in case there was a rules interpretation that needed to be made. The explanation had to be clearly made before viewers changed the channel to Jets-Pats or the NASCAR race or whatever late Sunday afternoon two star movie your local network affiliate was showing.
You know why Mike Pereira has been one of the best hires by any sports network in the last five years? Because he could explain the Saints-Bucs ending quickly, clearly and succinctly so we could all understand it. For whatever reason, that didn't happen on Sunday until it was much too late and fans were left asking what just happened.
But, on the bright side, at least nobody mistakenly declared the New York Jets the winner in Tampa Bay.