As explained in the opening segment of Friday’s PFT Live, plenty of things that happened during last night’s game made me #salty. This one made me the #saltiest.
Fourth quarter. 10:40 to play. Leading 16-7, the Patriots had just pinned the Buccaneers on their own three yard line with a punt.
Lined up under center, quarterback Jameis Winston took the snap and dropped back to throw from the end zone. On the left side of the formation, receiver Mike Evans streaked down the field. Tight end Cameron Brate, aligned a step back from the line of scrimmage and next to the left tackle, ran to the five and flared toward the sideline.
Patriots linebacker Elandon Roberts, on a slightly delayed blitz, popped through the line and closed in on Winston. Sensing a sack and a safety, Winston fired the ball to the left — at least 25 feet over the head of Brate, who was at the six when the ball soared by. It landed past the 20, so far out of bounds that a cheerleader had to duck and cover.
An official pointed to Brate, signifying the conclusion that Brate was in the area of the throw. (And if by “area” the official meant “area code,” I agree. Barely.)
The rule requires, specifically, that the pass must be “thrown in the direction of and lands in the vicinity of an originally eligible receiver.” While the ball was indeed thrown in Brate’s direction (if he were a giant), it definitely didn’t land in his vicinity.
It instantly reminded me of the first scoring play in Super Bowl XLVI, when Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, operating from the end zone, threw the ball straight down the middle of the field. It was ruled grounding, and the Giants were awarded a safety. The same thing should have happened last night.
Making the play even more remarkable was that fact that the CBS broadcast never even mentioned the possibility of grounding. Tony Romo praised the blitz and remarked on the camera angle of the replay, but he never said a word about the obvious failure to drop the flag.
Should Romo have instantly recognized it? Well, a guy in the front row wearing a Chris Hogan T-shirt sure did, immediately throwing his hands in the air, communicating the “what the hell?” (or possibly some other four-letter word) message to anyone who may have been paying attention.
But no one was. If the folks charged with paying the closest attention had been, the Patriots would have been up by 11 with 10 minutes to go, and the Bucs would have been kicking (or punting) the ball to New England from the 20.
UPDATE 10:51 a.m. ET: OK, now read this. Thanks to a little-known exception to the grounding rule, it was the right call. This exception should be as widely known and recognized as the exception that allows a quarterback when outside the pocket to fire the ball anywhere he wants, as long as it passes the line of scrimmage.