Lost in the aftermath of Saturday’s Ravens-Titans game are two mistakes — one questionable, one obvious — that fueled a second-quarter Tennessee drive, and that possibly saved the Titans from a safety.
(Several readers have pointed this issue out to us over the past couple of days, but we didn’t have time to study the issue properly until this morning, and we didn’t want to go off half-cocked . . . like we usually do.)
Facing second and nine from their own two, the Titans’ first stroke of luck came after Terrell Suggs of the Ravens blasted through the line and hit running back Chris Johnson in the end zone.
Via the official PFT TiVo service (we could put those ads in a rotation with the Lucky Charms banner), it appears that the ball was not completely out of the end zone at the moment Johnson’s knee hit the ground.
But the CBS announcing crew never even mentioned the possibility that the play should have been ruled a safety, and Ravens coach John Harbaugh didn’t challenge it.
The Titans converted a first down on that drive, thanks to Ahmard Hall’s catch and run that was capped with a vicious hit from Ray Lewis.
On the next drive, a first-down run from Chris Johnson ended in a penalty against the Titans. And referee Terry McAulay was clear: “After the play, personal foul, unnecessary roughness, offense number 76. Forearm to the head. Half the distance to the goal. Second down. The down counts.”
The only problem? On the next play, the down marker still showed a “1”.
On “first” down, Johnson gained nine yards, giving the Titans “second” (i.e., third) down and three. On “second” (i.e., third) down, LenDale White was bottled up for no gain. Then on “third” (i.e., fourth) down, quarterback Kerry Collins found Justin Gage for a first down.
As Dan Dierdorf of CBS said after the play, “If this drive results in no points whatsoever, it is already an outstanding drive for Tennessee.”
It was not an outstanding drive for Dierdorf or Greg Gumbel, who missed not only the potential safety but also the extra down that the Titans received.
The drive ultimately ended in an interception inside the Ravens’ 10. But the drive should have ended just as it was starting with two points to Baltimore and a free kick, or a punt from deep in the Titans’ own end of the field.
The fact that the Ravens won the game makes the errors less consequential, but errors indeed they were.
And, at a minimum, the mistakes help to balance out the perception that the Ravens were handed the game via the failure of the officials to call a delay of game penalty that would have wiped out a key gain during the game-winning drive.
UPDATE: A couple of comments, based on some of the comments. First, in order to avoid a safety the entire ball must be out of the end zone. It’s the flipside of the rule that a touchdown is scored if any portion of the ball breaks the plane of the goal line. Thus, if any portion of the ball is breaking the plan of the goaline (as it appears to be with Johnson’s knee clearly on the ground), it’s a safety. Second, some readers claim that McAulay later clarified that because the unnecessary foul occurred during the play, the down did not count. The fact that the penalty was enforced from the end of the run makes us think otherwise, but we’ll re-visit the TiVo version of the game later today.
SECOND UPDATE: The league says that McAulay indeed corrected himself and that the down didn’t count. We’re still confused as to why the penalty was enforced at the end of the run. If the down didn’t count, we think that the penalty should have been enforced from the prior spot. Also, as to the various comments that a personal foul results in an automatic first down, that rule applies when the defense commits the foul. Think about it for a second — if an offensive player commits a personal foul during a third-down play that fails to result in a first down, the offense doesn’t get a fresh first down after the penalty yardage is implied. Finally, all the league is saying for now about the non-safety is that the Ravens didn’t challenge the play. Which says a lot to us.