For the second straight week, a game involving the Patriots included a controversial call. For the second straight day, a game involving a team from Boston included a call raising questions of intent.
With New England leading 20-17 in the fourth quarter against the Dolphins and facing a second and seven at the Miami 23, quarterback Tom Brady fumbled after getting hit by Dolphins defensive back Jimmy Wilson. Tackle Nate Solder recovered, way back at the Miami 48.
The ball moved that far down the field because Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon hit the ball while it was loose.
The officials ruled that Vernon had committed an illegal batting of the ball, applying a 10-yard penalty from the line of scrimmage. Rule 12-4-1(a) explains that an illegal bat occurs if “a player of either team bats or punches a loose ball in the field of play toward his opponent’s goal line. While Rule 12-4-1(a) doesn’t expressly require intent, Rule 3-2-5(g) defines illegal batting as “the intentional striking of the ball with hand, fist, elbow, or forearm.”
Thus, the rule against batting requires intent, because batting happens only with intent.
“The official on the field what he ruled was that the player batted it forward, which is an intentional act,” Anderson told pool reporter Chris Perkins of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “Players cannot bat the ball forward. With it being the defensive team they couldn’t bat it in that direction. The offensive team likewise could not have batted it forward from their side of the field.”
If Vernon inadvertently had hit the ball in the direction of New England’s goal line while trying to recover it, there could have been no illegal batting because there would have been no batting. Review of the play from multiple angles suggests that Vernon was trying to hit the ball down the field, away from any Patriots players in the vicinity of Vernon as he lunged toward the ball.
And so it appears to have been the right call.
Even if Dolphins fans would disagree.