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.


  1. The down Resulted in a First down. The Penalty was a dead ball foul after the first down. So half the distance to the goal first down.

  2. This is why making a big deal out of the leniency in the play clock (afforded to both sides mind you) is such a red herring. People are rushing to recommend buzzers and vibrators when it makes no difference in the outcome of the game while big mistakes like these two do and they happen virtually every game.

  3. Florio – If you go back a few frames to when his knee first hits the ground, you will see it is even more obvious. However, on the second call, I am almost positive that while Dierdorf was running his mouth and they were showing the replay of Ed Reed bending back the runner, the refs said, “Correction, the foul occured during the play.” Still, CBS is awful at picking up things like this. You sometimes wonder if they are even watching the game when they fail to show replays of key plays. Another example is when the Titans were called for roughing the passer, blow to the head on the Ravens first TD drive. They never even showed it.

  4. The missed safety may somewhat mitigate the missed call on the play clock running out, but the Ravens had the option of challenging the missed safety call. The Titans didn’t have that option. Not equal.

  5. I’m pretty sure that for a safety, the entire ball must be in the end zone. If the nose of the ball is out of the end zone (as your picture clearly shows) it is NOT a safety.

  6. Interesting…Now Titans fans can quiet down about the play clock before the heap catch. Also on the Ray lewis hit on Hall’s catch, Dan Dierdorf said three times, “great job holding onto the ball”, yet Hall had fumbled the ball O.B. The man may be legally blind.

  7. The officiating has been tops all season. I especially liked it when the zebras picked up the interference flag against the Gints when Coughlin became upset. The poor official that threw the flag was behind the play and could clearly see that the receiver got hooked and spun before the ball got there but after a little huddle and most likely a call from the commish, the flag was “picked up.”
    I have faith in the NFL officiating.

  8. Actually, the ball does NOT have to be completely out of the end zone. To avoid a safety, the ball just has to break the plane of the goal line, just like a touchdown except in reverse.

  9. For the Safety: I thought the rules state that if any part of the ball is in the field of play (ie. out of the end zone) it is not a Safety. Your article says the ball was “not completely out of the end zone.” If any part is out, it is not a Safety.

  10. I don’t know what these guys are watching. Ok, the “television” game is different than the “live” game but once you see a play live, wouldn’t the average fan then watch a replay? Of course you would.
    The minute Anquan Bouldin ran into the end zone, me, the common fan could see he had pulleda hammy. That big fat load Madden and the Al “I’ll get older but still grow hair” Michaels never mentioned it. Oh wait. Yes they did. Four minutes later.
    Count on bad officiating and announcers. Too bad you can’t bet THAT line.

  11. Dierdorf and Gumbel both commented that Johnson almost did not make it out of the endzone and that he had to make an extra lunge to avoid the safety.
    The Titans did not get an “extra” down. Result of the run was first down. The “After the play, personal foul, unnecessary roughness” penalty moved the ball back 15 yards. They lost 15 yards of field position. Dierdorf and Gumbel both made comments on the loss of the filed position.

  12. First of all let me say that I am not a Titans fan.The refs didn’t call a safety because there wasn’t one. If Harbaugh had challenged the non-call he would have lost because the picture is inconclusive. As far as the personal foul half the distance to the goal. The side line banner indicating a 1st down was correct, not the ref’s call of 2nd down.The personal foul would have given the Titans a 1st down.

  13. I could be wrong, but i’m pretty sure that much like going into the end zone, all the ball has to do is cross the plane to be considered out of the end zone. Based on your picture above, the ball is out of the end zone.

  14. Wrong. The refs came on and corrected themselves and said the foul occurred during the play. Nice detective work.

  15. Doesnt the ball just have to break the plain of the goal-line coming out.(just like going in) ?

  16. So, basically, the refs screwed up a lot in that game, kind of like they have all season?
    Oops, good thing I’m not a player, else I’d be on the phone with Commish and cutting a check for 20k right now.

  17. Only problem with this story is that it is factually incorrect. I understand that it certainly appears to be the way the story indicates on the surface…but it isn’t.
    First, just like a touchdown, all the ball has to do is “break the plane” coming out just like coming in. The entire ball does not have to be over the line. Therefore, your picture proves that it is not a safety.
    Second, and you can thank CBS for this, the official (after stating what you printed) corrected himself stating that the foul was during the play — not after — and that it was first down. Not only did CBS not show that they didn’t even report it. I was at the game and the ref was quite clear — I had no idea that CBS didn’t clarify until reading about it yesterday.
    CBS was pitiful. They also did not show replays of what looked like Flacco stepping out of the endzone (he did not) or a replay of the “late” hit on Flacco early in the game.

  18. Yeah the refs arn’t the only ones getting stuff wrong Florio. You are wrong on both counts here. Just Delete this entry and we will all pretend you never wrote this.

  19. Titans did get an extra down. I went back and looked at the sequence several times.
    However, it did appear that the flag came in BEFORE the whistle. So the scenario that Frox lays out above is entirely possible. The announcers are constantly babbling and missing stuff on the field.

  20. Anyone who follows the NFL knows how loathe the officials are to call a safety. It has to be a pretty clear the QB or RB was tackled in the end zone, it was clearly grounding or the O lineman held so badly my 5 year old could see it. If there is any wiggle room the ref will decide against awarding the safety.

  21. Comment on your update:
    On any play during the game, the ball is spotted by the front nose of the ball. Why would a safety be different that you have the get the entire ball out of the end zone? It’s not. All you need is the nose of the ball.

  22. Judging by the picture (which is at a slight angle to the goal line) and the angle of the ball it appears to be beyond the goal line as the ball in not exactly parallel to the ground.

  23. Doesn’t matter, none of these missed calls matter… the better team won. Titans might have outgained them and, except for penalties and turnovers, outplayed them but the Ravens did what they had to do in order to win. Ravens were the better team.
    No one was more hurt by that outcome than the Steelers, who I believe won’t be able to beat the Ravens for a third time.
    Props to the classy Ravens fans I saw on here, and there were several.

  24. I noticed this as well after he bounced out another yard. I can understand how the refs missed it as he bounced another yard – hoe the coaches miss it because they are not even close to see it.
    Should the refs have caught it – yes, but since they did not, if we see it, someone on the opposing team’s staff should be watching the coverage and have a red button to push. If it is close call a TO instead of the button and then red button after a tivo look.
    The only other solution a new digital SLR with a link to booth coaches for Greg Brady to snap sideline shots while he is trying to make it with the cheerleaders.

  25. Ball broke the plane. No safety.
    Ref clarified, after, that the foul was during the play. First down.
    These are 2 non-stories. Calls were correct.

  26. Personal Foul penalty is an automatic first down.
    Basic understanding of the game would be nice.

  27. none of these calls lost the game for the titans. the titans couldn’t handle the rat-turds. did anyone mention that the titans wouldn’t win another game after they disrepected the towel? oh yeah, i did. and could chris johnson maybe win the award for “biggest dissapearing act in a team’s biggest game of the year”? maybe that would shut him up. bye-bye titans, learn some class during the off season.

  28. You’re pretty much wrong with regard to a safety. It’s the reverse of a TD. If any part of the ball is touching the field of play… it’s not a safety. The ball is placed just inside the field of play.
    Also, you have to remember that the Ravens personnel are watching for a potential safety as well. They would have jumped on it had they thought that it was truly a safety. It’s highly unlikely that they “missed” this play and didn’t review for a potential safety.

  29. Here are a couple of simple explanations for you guys.
    1) For those saying that a Personal Foul is an automatic first down, the personal foul call was on the offense, so it’s not an automatic first down.
    2) Any time that any part of the ball is touching the goalline, the ball is across the plain, thus in the end zone. This applies to either side of the field. All that has to happen is that the point of the ball break the plain and it’s in the end zone for a TD or Safety.
    Think of it this way, if the Refs were to spot the ball, the point would be on the goal line.

  30. PantsB:
    With your amazing understanding of the rules, you may want to revisit your comment. A personal foul on the offense results in an automatic first down??? Really?

  31. Hahahaha, all of you self proclaimed football experts should apply for a job on ESPN and join the other 35 pro football “experts”. Some of you are taking jabs because a personal foul is “an automatic first down”, ROTFLMAO!!!! Not if is against the offense, it might be a first down, if it occurred after the play resulted in a first down, but not if the play didnt result in a first down. Hilarious.
    Also, to touch on the safety call. When a player scores a TD, if any part of the ball breaks the plane, that means that the ball is in the end zone, right? So if any part of the ball fails to get beyond the plane, that ball is still in the end zone, right (see previous sentence).
    Now, to go further, from that snap shot of Johnson laying on the goal line, my personal opinion is that the ball didnt get completely beyond the goal line, BUT, in terms of indisputable visual evidence, I dont think the refs would call that a safety, based on that picture. It is at a bit of an angle, as one commenter already mentioned, so it is possibly, that if the angle was straight on, that the ball actually made it out of the endzone, but I cant say for certain, without question, that it was a safety

  32. The ball must be completey outside the goal line..if it’s on the line it’s a safety..
    Two points are scored for the opposing team when the ball is dead on or behind a team’s own goal line if the impetus came from a player on that team.

  33. All this conversation is moot.
    The point here is that the game was officiated pretty equally, all things considered.
    The Titans did either get an extra down or get extra yardage, as the personal fowl ON THE OFFENSE was enforced from the END of the run. If it was before the down counted, as Florio notes, it should be half the distance to the goal from where the played started, not from the end of the run.
    So either the Titans got extra yards or a free down. Take your pick.
    The point is, the better team won. Flacco outplayed Collins and made less mistakes, and scored more points.
    The delay of game call was iffy, but the extra yards or free down easily evens it all out, especially if the Titans had scored points off of that.
    Anyone who can’t see the better team won and the officiating DID NOT decide the game is either a Ravens hater, or a Titans fan.
    BTW, I would note that a friend of mine (a ravens fan) who attended the game said Tennessee fans were some of the most spirited, yet friendly and classy, fans he’s met. So kudos to you classy Titans fans out there.

  34. Damn it! Florio is right. I just looked it up in the 2008 Official Rules of the NFL:
    Rule 7, Section 1, Article 2, Note: A ball in the end zone which is carried toward the field of play is still in touch. It is a safety or touchback if any part of the ball is on, above, or behind the goal line (plane) when dead. In such a case, the ball must be entirely in the field of play in order not to be in touch.

  35. Please stop this nonsense. The game is history and these plays you are talking about are moot points. The Ravens didn’t challenge. The Ref corrected himself.
    The Titans DID GET SHAFTED on the simplest of things, the clock running out and the REFS NOT CALLING IT. That play CHANGED THE GAME.
    Had it been called, a 23-yard completion would have been wiped out! /the end

  36. The Q-man says:
    January 12th, 2009 at 1:17 pm
    Please stop this nonsense. The game is history and these plays you are talking about are moot points. The Ravens didn’t challenge. The Ref corrected himself.
    The Titans DID GET SHAFTED on the simplest of things, the clock running out and the REFS NOT CALLING IT. That play CHANGED THE GAME.
    Had it been called, a 23-yard completion would have been wiped out! /the end
    I dont want to burst your bubble Q-Man, but lets look at things from a different angle. You are saying that, had the Titans not gotten screwed with the play clock, you can take the game winning field goal off of the scoreboard. Thats fine, I’ll play that game, so the score is now 10-10. Now, lets factor in the fact that the Ravens very well may have had a safety on that Johnson run, so if we are “unscrewing” the Titans for the field goal,we need to “unscrew” the Ravens on the safety call, and the Ravens still win, 12-10. Do you feel better, the Titans only lost by 2 points in your world, instead of a 3 point defeat for everyone

  37. If the call was wrong on the safety — the Ratbirds could have challenged it.
    The call WAS wrong on the delay of game — but the Titans weren’t allowed to challenge it.
    Ravens didn’t get screwed…they could have challenged.

  38. Is it just me or did the usually strong and alert Greg and Dan call a terrible game on Saturday? On this very drive in question here, Greg at one point said it had started at the Titans 20. Uh, it very memorably started at the Titans 1. Also things I recall: with the Ravens having 7 points, Greg mentioned that they had one prior trip to the redzone and that resulted in the touchdown. I seem to recall the Ravens getting their first 7 on a long bomb from Flacco. It was also pointed out here that there was nothing mentioned in the broadcast booth about the potential Flacco safety. Not until the post-game did they show that he stayed in.

  39. The Q-man says:
    The Titans DID GET SHAFTED on the simplest of things, the clock running out and the REFS NOT CALLING IT. That play CHANGED THE GAME.
    Had it been called, a 23-yard completion would have been wiped out! /the end.
    Interesting. So a delay of game penalty that doesn’t get called is more consequential than a safety that isn’t called? Interesting logic considering that one puts points on the board and one does not. Sorry but you’re blatantly wrong.

  40. “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. ”
    You’ve stated this as fact, but I can’t find anywhere where this is explicitly noted.
    I don’t think the “flipside” concept applies since one is going in and one is going out. (ie, if any part needs to the in to get a TD, then any part can be out to avoid a safety…)
    We need some clarification.

  41. “Rule 7, Section 1, Article 2, Note: A ball in the end zone which is carried toward the field of play is still in touch. It is a safety or touchback if any part of the ball is on, above, or behind the goal line (plane) when dead. In such a case, the ball must be entirely in the field of play in order not to be in touch. “
    So it is physically impossible for a team to have the ball on it’s own 1-foot line (since that would leave the tail of the ball in the end zone?)
    That seems odd and counterintuitive…

  42. Is anyone really surprised by any of this? For whatever reason, NFL officiating has hit an all-time low this year; even normally-impeccable referees like Mike Carey and Ed Hochuli have had their share of blown calls.
    The officiating might have been bad, but at least it was consistently bad, and screwed both teams equally.
    And for God’s sake, can people quit whining about the non-call for delay of game? I’m a die-hard Titans fan, and I’m as dismayed as anyone….but the fact is, nobody would be complaining about things that were out of the Titans’ control if they had taken care of those things they COULD control.

  43. BigGreenMonster, I’ve already given you clarification. Here, I’ll post from the Official Rules Book AGAIN:
    Rule 7, Section 1, Article 2, Note: A ball in the end zone which is carried toward the field of play is still in touch. It is a safety or touchback if any part of the ball is on, above, or behind the goal line (plane) when dead. In such a case, the ball must be entirely in the field of play in order not to be in touch.

  44. The lack of knowledge about what constitutes a safety in this thread is astounding. And people have the nerve to criticize officials.

  45. I think it is funny that so many so called football fans don’t even know the rules. When coming out of your own endzone the entire ball must be outside the plane of the goal. The goal line is the playing field edge of the painted goal line. The actual paint of the goal line (the goal line) is in the end zone. This play was obviously a safety. It is not even close. I wonder if the Ravens even saw a replay. Perhaps the teams should have access to all replay angles instead of relying on the home team or the networks to provide them. There have been several times that a good replay is not shown until after the next play in ran thus making a challenge impossible.
    I think the NFL should go to the college rule. Let the replay official review every play.
    The league also needs to work with the officials on spotting the ball. When a player steps out, the officials mark the ball at the spot his foot touched out of bounds. That is incorrect. The correct spot is where the ball is when a player contacts the out of bounds area. If a player is leaning forward the ball could be a yard and a half ahead of where his foot touches the sideline.

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