Whistle rule


December 08, 2007|By BILL ORDINE

Some people have flashbacks from bad acid trips. I have them from traumatic football experiences. I had one Monday night when the Ravens lost to the New England Patriots. And I'll bet an old acquaintance of mine, James David "Buddy" Ryan, who was at the game, did, as well.

The flashback came on fourth-and-one after Buddy's son, Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, called the timeout that negated a successful stand by the Baltimore defense. As you might recall, the Ravens stuffed the run again on the next play, this one by New England's Heath Evans. But the Patriots got still another break when their own false-start penalty wiped out that play and gave them another shot on fourth-and-six. You know the rest.

I was immediately taken back to another Ryan-coached team. I was covering Buddy's Philadelphia Eagles. Instead of frigid Baltimore, we were in balmy San Diego. The 1989 Eagles were trying to hold on to a 17-17 tie and take the game into overtime as San Diego's Chris Bahr lined up for a 44-yard field goal. Wide left. But wait. San Diego false start. Dead ball penalty. No choice for the defense. Move it back and try again. You can figure what happened: Kick good, game over.

This week, I got a note from a reader, Spence Lieske in Timonium, whose insides are still churning from Monday night. His belief is the same as mine. A team should not profit from a penalty if the rules can be adjusted to prevent it. Forget it was the Ravens. That's just common sense.

The reader's suggestion was essentially this: False-start and illegal-motion penalties should not stop play unless there is pre-snap contact. The play should continue, and the flag should be tossed after the snap. Then, the defense would have the option of play or penalty.

I would go one more step and argue that play should be stopped immediately, with contact or if a defensive player crosses the line of scrimmage pre-snap, as a safety precaution.

But if an offensive player moves and the defense stays put, why shouldn't the defense have the option of letting the play continue and declining the penalty? That's what happens on some defensive scrimmage-line penalties when the offense gets what the television announcers call a "free play."

Sure, there are other considerations, such as a pre-snap offensive penalty followed by a post-snap defensive penalty (example, defensive holding). In that case, I would say, the defensive penalty is treated as if it did not occur because it probably was precipitated by an illegal advantage gained pre-snap by the offense. If the defensive penalty was a personal foul, though, the personal foul (because it carries the potential for injury) would override the pre-snap offensive penalty. I'm sure there are other possible tweaks.

But returning to the '07 Ravens game and the '89 Eagles game, it makes no sense that a team should get a game-changing break when that team broke the rules. On Monday, Baltimore was the victim. Many moons ago, it was Philadelphia. Both times, it happened to Ryans.

Let us stop this cycle of madness!


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