If you have a incidental facemask call on first down, do you enforce the penalty from the end of the run and is it still first down or is it second down? --Dave, Sioux Falls, S.D.
An incidental facemask foul is five yards from the previous line of scrimmage on a pass play or five yards from the end of the run on a running play. This foul does not automatically give the team that was fouled a first down. If, after enforcement, the line to gain has been reached, then it is first down. If the five-yard penalty does not reach the line to gain, the down remains the same as it was at the snap. An example would be: second down and seven yards to go for a first down; the runner makes one yard and an incidental face mask foul is called. After the five-yard penalty is assessed, it will be second down and one yard to go for a first down.
In last week's Denver Broncos-Raider game, Coach Mike Shanahan called a last-second timeout to ice the winning field goal. Did Shanahan tell the side judge ahead of time to make that timeout just before the snap of the ball? Is that legal? --Tim Beuchler, Battle Creek, Mich.
It is against the rules for a coach or player to give instructions to on-field officials regarding when to call a timeout for their team. The request for a timeout must be immediate. Teams have been calling timeouts to ice the kicker on field goals for as long as I can remember. As long as the request comes before the ball is snapped and the team that calls the timeout has timeouts remaining, the request is honored. A perfectly legal move.
Jerry, during the Bears-Cowboys game, I noticed during a play that Robbie Gould was standing just over the boundary line in the field. Could this be considered a violation of the too many players on the field rule, and if so, could Wade Phillips have challenged this? Thanks and I really enjoy your column! -- Jamie Killian, Batavia, Ill.
I am not sure that I understand the situation that you describe, but if he was in the game and standing on a boundary line or end line before the snap, the play would be perfectly legal providing that he steps into the field of play and gets both feet down to the ground before the ball is snapped. If he was standing just over the sideline, he would not be considered a twelfth man on the field, and would be told to step back by the nearest on-field official. Twelve men on the field is reviewable under replay rules. But the play that you describe, in my opinion, is not reviewable.
Jerry, thanks for your column, which I enjoy reading every week. There's certainly very many people over here looking forward to October 28th! I'd like to ask you a question about the "one untimed down" rule. I understand that a penalty committed by the defense on the last play of either half should require the extension of that half by one untimed down; however, logically, when the offense commits a penalty on a fourth down that is the last play of a half (as happened in this week's Bears-Cowboys game), should it not be considered that possession should revert to the other team for one untimed down also? --James Farrar, London, England
Last week, I got a question from Italy and now you send me a question from England!! I guess the interest in professional football is worldwide. I am very glad that you enjoy the column.
You are correct regarding a foul on the last play of the half or the game, giving the offensive team the option of an untimed down. Under NFL rules, a foul by the offensive team on the last play of the half or game, regardless of the down, ends the half or the game. The game has to end somewhere and the rules-makers in their wisdom decided that this was a good time to end the half or the game.
In the Cowboys-Bears game on Sunday, the Bears ran a fake field goal where the holder tossed the ball up to the kicker who then threw a pass. In that situation, could roughing the passer be called if he were hit after the throw? Thank you! --Brian, Nashville, Tenn.
When the holder of the fake field goal becomes the passer, he is given the same protection that a quarterback would get, once he leaves the pocket to throw the pass. The two-step rule that prohibits the defensive players from hitting the quarterback after he releases the pass goes away once the passer leaves the pocket. The same would be true for the holder who becomes a passer. Any unnecessary roughness such as helmet-to-helmet contact or spearing would always be enforced. A simpler answer to your question is, "Yes."
Does the clock run during an extra point attempt in the NFL? -- Roger, Lewisburg, Ohio
Once a touchdown is scored, the clock is stopped and is not started until the ball is legally touched in the field of play during the ensuing kickoff. The try-for-point or extra point is an untimed down under all rules of football, including everything from Pop Warner to the NFL.
In the closing minutes of the Cardinals-Ravens game, Adrian Wilson was called for a personal foul when he delivered a hard hit to Ravens tight end Todd Heap. In explaining the foul, the referee made mention of Heap being a "defenseless receiver". Can you explain this "defenseless receiver" rule? -- Matt, Freehold, N.J.
All players in virtually defenseless postures are protected from unnecessary hits by the defense, which include helmet-to-helmet contact, helmet-to-body contact, and blows to the head. Intended receivers of forward passes who fail to catch the pass are considered to be in a defenseless position immediately after the pass is missed. If the pass is caught, all of these restrictions are off, unless in the opinion of the covering official, something unsportsmanlike occurs. In your play, the pass was missed by the tight end and he was unnecessarily hit by the defender. The announcement by the referee was excellent. The microphone is used to explain situations so that the public can understand what happened and why.
If a receiver catches the ball, is upended by the defender and the receiver's ball-carrying arm touches the ground first, is he down? Or must he continue to maintain possession until his knee/leg/foot is down? This as it refers to what transpired in the 3rd quarter of the 49ers @ Steelers game this week? --David Ryder, Chico, Calif.
In order to complete a catch, a receiver must come down with both feet inbounds or any other part of his body except his hands or feet and be in complete possession of the ball. In your play, the receiver has not completed the catch and when he hits the ground the ball pops out. This is an incomplete pass. If a runner in possession of the ball is upended and comes down with any part of his body other than a hand or foot, he is considered down by contact if the ball comes out after the contact with the ground.
I was the clock operator at a recent middle school football game. The referee at the game came over and told me to only stop the clock on his signal. I was under the impression that the clock could be stopped by the signal of any of the officials. Should the clock operator respond to any of the officials' signals to stop and start the clock? -- Rickey, Unionville, Tenn.
As far as I am concerned, you are correct. The signals to stop and start the clock should be able to come from each on-field official. The referee in most cases is not in position to see anything occurring downfield that might stop the clock. Unless this is a special rule instituted by the middle school football league, I would strongly recommend you continue to do what you feel is correct.
How does one become a K-ball ball boy? Is this a paid position? Are they hired by the league or the teams? Are they members of the officiating crew? Are there any qualifications? -- Jon Ries, Oakland, Calif.
In order to find out the necessary information regarding K-ball positions in the NFL, I would suggest writing to the team in your area. I would direct your letter to the personnel department and tell them that you are interested in the position. I can tell you that they are not part of the officiating crew and they are paid for their services. Good luck.
Ask Jerry Markbreit
The fomer NFL referee answers reader questions each week during the season
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