Jerry Markbreit's answers

SportsFootballCrimeCrime, Law and JusticeNFLJon RunyanPhiladelphia Eagles

What would the call be on this hypothetical play: From the 5-yard line, RB rushes the ball, and appears to score a touchdown. The official blows the whistle and signals a TD. After looking at instant replay, it is shown that the RB fumbles before breaking the plane. However both teams' players assumed it was a TD and didn't try to recover the ball. The fumble occurs prior to the whistle and the ball drops before the goal line. Who takes possession and where would the ball be spotted if the TD doesn't count? Thanks for your insight, I enjoy your column every week. -- Jon M., Chicago

If the fumbled ball in your play was in the field of play when the whistle was blown, and not in the end zone, the ball would belong to the fumbling team at the spot that it occupied when the whistle sounded. If it was fourth down, the ball would belong to the defensive team at that spot. There is also a special rule covering an inadvertent whistle blown while the ball is loose in the end zone. This situation would return the ball to the fumbling team at the one-yard line. This rule applies to both end zones.

During last Monday night's Bucs vs. Eagles game, Tampa Bay's defense tipped a punt that maybe traveled a total of 10 yards and didn't even make it past midfield. In my opinion, this would be considered a blocked punt, however it was just ruled as a tip. Could you please explain the difference and what circumstances need to exist for this to be considered a blocked punt? Thanks! -- John Goodwin, Dallas

What you have in your play is a partially blocked punt. A blocked punt is one that does not cross the line of scrimmage in flight after being touched by a defender.

This term really has nothing to do with the kick rules of the game. When a punt is blocked behind the line of scrimmage and then rebounds beyond the line of scrimmage, it is treated just like a normal punt. There is, however, a special rule that states if a punt is tipped by a defender and that defender hits the kicker, "running into the kicker" will not be called. Tipping the kick gets the defense off the hook.

In week one, when the Vikings were lined up on offense in the fourth quarter and the play clock was down to about 10 seconds, the Green Bay Packers called for a timeout. The only problem was they had no timeouts left. I thought it was a penalty to call time out when you have none left. The referees did not penalize the Pack. Eventually the play started and Culpepper fumbled the ball. Had the refs penalized the Pack it would have been 1st and goal and the game clock would have been at the two-minute warning. What's the deal? Am I wrong or should they have been penalized? Please clear this up for a very upset Viking fan. -- Chuck Wolk, Chico, Cal.

Each team is entitled to three timeouts in each half. If a fourth timeout is requested by a team, and it is outside of the last two minutes of the second or fourth quarter, the timeout can be granted, but a five-yard penalty is assessed for delay of game. In other words, you can buy a timeout if it's not in the last two minutes of either half. When a team requests a fourth timeout, the referee will ask them if they want to pay the penalty. In almost all cases, they decline, and the timeout is not granted. In the last two minutes of either half, a fourth excess timeout is not granted, unless an injury is involved. Each team is entitled to one excess timeout for injury in the last two minutes, without penalty. Any additional excess timeouts carry a five-yard penalty. I'm sure, in your play, the refs asked the Packers what they wanted to do, and they chose the above explanation.

Jerry: Can a kicker be offsides on a kickoff? Near the end of this weekend's Packers-Vikings game, the Packers attempted an onside kick during which the (right-footed) kicker approached the ball from the left at an angle almost parallel to the 30-yard line. Before touching the ball, he planted his left foot across the 30-yard line. Isn't that offsides? -- Matt M., Evanston

Here is the rule regarding offsides on the kickoff. After the referee's whistle, prior to a free kick, all kicking team players must be inbounds and behind the ball when it is kicked. The holder of the kick, if he is necessary, may be beyond the line. The kicker may be beyond the line, with his plant foot, but his kicking foot may not be beyond the line until the ball is actually kicked. What you describe is perfectly legal. His plant foot was beyond the line, but his kicking foot was not.

During the week one game with the Packers and Vikings there was in interesting play during a punt. A member of the kicking team made contact with the ball in an attempt to down it. A member of the receiving team then made contact with the ball as he tried to gain possession of it. The ball was then covered by the kicking team. Since I was watching this with both Packer and Viking fans, a large discussion broke out on which team would get possession of the ball. I know the correct call in high school rules and attempted to explain my position and was promptly ignored as a "Bears fan". What is the NFL rule regarding first touching? -- Steve Schaub, Marion Iowa

No player on the kicking team may touch a punt beyond the line of scrimmage before it has been touched by a member of the receiving team. This action is called illegal touching. This is not a foul that carries a yardage penalty, but it insures the receiving team possession of the ball at the conclusion of the down. Even if the receiving team fumbles, trying to return the kick, they will be awarded the ball at the spot of illegal touching.

There is an exception to the illegal touching rule. If the receivers foul during the play and the penalty is accepted, the spot of illegal touching disappears, as if it never happened.

In last night's Eagles/Bucs game, there was a play in the first half that caused much debate: Donovan McNabb dropped back to pass, had his arm hit, and the ball fell into the arms of Eagle offensive tackle Jon Runyan. That was the call on the field. The Eagles challenged it, and it was turned into a fumble and fumble recovery. The debate was this: The referees declared Runyan an ineligible receiver. It is my understanding that A) that is a penalty and B) you cannot challenge a play that results in a penalty. Obviously, I have something wrong, what is it? -- Bryan Michaels, Los Angeles

In the play in question, replay was used to determine whether the ball was passed or fumbled by the quarterback. The referee ruled forward pass, and when the ball touched the ineligible receiver, a flag was thrown. The play was challenged, and after reviewing the play, the referee reversed his call to a fumble. The fumble negated the foul for illegal touching of the forward pass. The result of the play was a fumble recovery and advance by tackle Jon Runyan. This play was handled properly. You are correct; replay cannot challenge a penalty. However, a penalty can be cancelled or called when replay changes the status of a play.

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