An apparent officiating blunder Monday night potentially helped the Seattle Seahawks avert a loss to the winless Detroit Lions.
The play in question happened with 1 minute 51 seconds to play and Detroit trailing, 13-10, but on the verge of scoring a go-ahead touchdown.
Receiver Calvin Johnson caught a short pass, ran through the defense and lunged for the goal line. The ball was poked out of his hands by safety Kam Chancellor just before it crossed the plane and bounced toward the back of the end zone.
The infraction missed by the officials was linebacker K.J. Wright’s batting the ball out of the back of the end zone instead of allowing it to bounce out without his help.
Officials mistakenly called it a touchback but replays showed that Wright should have been called for illegal batting, a 10-yard penalty.
According to former NFL referee Gerry Austin, a rules analyst for ESPN: “The rule says the ball cannot be batted in either end zone by either team when it’s loose The ball should have come back to the offense at the spot where it was fumbled, and [the Seahawks] should have been penalized half the distance [to the goal line]. So it would be first and goal for the Lions at the one-quarter yard line.”
Instead, Seattle got the ball at the 20, drove downfield and ran out the clock.
Said the Lions’ Jim Caldwell, coach of the NFL’s only winless team: “I know the play at the end was a questionable play because it was a batted ball, but that goes to upstairs. So there’s nothing you can do about it. Nevertheless, we’ve got to get better.”
Appearing on NFL Network after the game, Dean Blandino, the league’s vice president of officiating, said that the question of whether an illegal bat happened is not subjected to replay review.
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