Ask Jerry Markbreit

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Can a personal foul for a late hit out of bounds be challenged? It appeared in Monday night's game the Ravens were called for a late hit when the ball carrier still had both feet in bounds. --John Eisenmann, Burlington, Vt.

Under the current replay system personal fouls of any kind cannot be challenged by either the coach or the replay official. The only fouls that can be reviewed are touching of a forward pass by an ineligible receiver, which is a five-yard penalty; touching of a forward pass by a defensive player, which would nullify a defensive pass interference call; an illegal forward pass from beyond the line of scrimmage; and 12 men on the field by either team.

If an offense or special teams unit, with no timeouts, commits a penalty on fourth down during the last play of the game with no time left on the clock, does that play have to be replayed, does the game end, or can the defense decline the penalty and take the spot of the ball? That situation could have happened this Sunday with 3 seconds on the clock and a lot of people speculating that Bears punter Brad Maynard should have just run around with the ball and downed it rather than punting it and giving Detroit's Eddie Drummond a chance to return it for a touchdown. --Ryan, McHenry, Ill.

If the offensive team fouls on the last play of the game, regardless of the down, there is no replay and the game is over. This offensive foul negates any score that might have been made by the offense on that play. If the defensive team fouls on the last play of the game, regardless of the down, the game is extended by one untimed down free from foul by the defense. If the last play of the game is a punt and the return team is fouled by the kicking team, the return team is given an untimed down as stated above.

About the fourth quarter play in the Bears-Lions game in which Jeff Garcia was called for intentional grounding, I feel that the officials got the play right. But my question is, the initial call was that the play was a backwards pass that was picked up and returned for a TD by Hunter Hillenmeyer or was it? I guess I was confused and thought that if the officials were going to overturn it, it required a Detroit challenge. Instead, they overturned the call first, then the Bears had to challenge to get it reviewed. Is that proper procedure? --Mike Bulthaus, Chicago

This play was handled properly by the game officials. After the play was over, the officials talked and it was decided, without replay, that the ball had been thrown forward by the Detroit quarterback. When that decision was made, it was reported to the referee that there was no eligible receiver in the area where the pass landed, and, consequently, intentional grounding was correctly called. Detroit did not challenge because after the conference, the ruling on the play was reversed by the officials. The Bears' challenge was made to prove that the officials were not correct. This challenge cost the Bears a time out.

Watching the Bears-Lions game on Sunday I believe something really dangerous happened. Lions corner R.W. McQuarters hit Bears quarterback Kyle Orton late and out of bounds. He was rightly flagged for it, but on the same play the Bears committed a holding penalty which unbelievably offset the unnecessary roughness penalty. This basically tells me that if the defense knows that the offence has a penalty against them, they can hit the QB or anyone else they want to, as late or as dangerous as they like. Surely these penalties shouldn't offset each other. Why does a hold for 10 yards and a penalty for 15 yards offset each other anyway? Neil Young, Inverness, Scotland

If there is a double foul (a foul by both teams) on a play without a change of team possession, the penalties are offset and the down is replayed at the previous line of scrimmage. If it was a scrimmage down, the number of the next down and the necessary line to gain is the same as for the down during which the fouls occurred. There is one exception to this offset rule and it is as follows: If one of the fouls that occurs is a 15-yard penalty and the other foul would result in a five-yard penalty only, the major foul is enforced and the minor foul is disregarded. The penalty is enforced from the previous line of scrimmage. This is the only provision in the rules that provides relief based on the severity of the foul. In your play, under the rules, the holding penalty and the late hit out-of-bounds are considered the same with regard to offset.

Jerry, at the end of the 1st half of the Bills-Patriots game, the Pats lined up for a field goal with seven seconds left but were called for a delay of game. They were moved back 5 yards and missed the kick. Why wasn't there a 10-second runoff to end the half? --Charles Jake, Cincinnati

In order to have a 10-second runoff, the clock has to be running when the foul occurs. The clock was stopped at seven seconds when the delay of game was called. The 10-second rule is very complicated, but in a nutshell, it can only be enforced during the last minute of either half by an offensive foul occurring at the snap. For example a false start or an illegal motion.

When a ball carrier steps out-of-bounds, is the ball marked at the spot where he first stepped out or is the ball marked where the ball is once the player steps out? --Andre Banks, Washington D.C.

When a player with the ball in his possession steps out-of-bounds, the spot where the ball will next be put in play is determined by the location of the ball when the player steps out.

In Sunday's Bears game, the referee said over the PA system that the Lions had declined their opportunity for a fair catch kick. I've known about this rule for a long time, and have patiently waited to see one, but this is the closest I have ever seen a team actually using it. Did you ever see it on your watch? When was the last time an NFL game saw a fair catch kick? --Adam Pavlik, East Lansing, Mich.

Yes, I have seen two fair catch kicks attempted during my 23 years in the National Football League. Neither kick was successful, but it was exciting, nevertheless. Earlier this season the Tennessee Titans attempted a fair catch kick. It was no good. You must remember that the circumstances must warrant this decision because a missed field goal attempt--and that is what this is--must be returned to the spot where the kick was made.

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