Members of the Bengals said after Thursday night’s walk-off safety that they thought the officials got the call wrong, and that Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton was outside the end zone when Miami’s Cameron Wake hit him and pushed him back in. But the NFL says the officials got the call right.
“In my opinion, the ball was out of the end zone and so I don’t get it,” said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who is a member of the NFL’s competition committee.
Dalton admitted that he doesn’t know the rule, but he felt like he was beyond the goal line before Wake tackled him into the end zone.
“I don’t know exactly the rule, if it’s the foot or the ball — I don’t know what it is. From the replay I thought it was out, but I don’t know. I’m obviously not an official. I don’t know how they judge that,” Dalton said.
But the rule is clear: The position of Dalton’s feet or the rest of his body is irrelevant, and the entire ball would have had to be outside the end zone before Wake hit Dalton for it not to be a safety. NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino appeared on NFL Network shortly after the game to explain the call.
“The key is the position of the ball in relation to the goal line when Dalton is first contacted by Wake,” Blandino said. “We had a great look at it – a look right down the goal line. When Wake first makes contact with Dalton, the ball is breaking the plane of the goal line. If any part of that ball is breaking the plane when the contact occurs, and he is driven back into the end zone, it’s a safety. That was the ruling. It was reviewed in replay and confirmed. The entire ball has to be out of the end zone when the contact occurs for it not to be a safety.”
Blandino noted that if an offensive player is tackled with the ball halfway in the end zone and halfway out, that is a safety. The ball would have to be entirely out of the end zone at the time Wake hit Dalton for Dalton to be credited with forward progress outside the end zone.
Dalton actually looked like he flinched a bit just before Wake hit him, bringing the ball backwards a few inches, and those few inches may have been the difference between the ball being entirely out of the end zone, and part of the ball being over the goal line. And all it takes is for part of the ball to be over the goal line, and it’s a safety. The officials got this one right.