Football

Mike Pereira on NFL rules: Sometimes, the penalty is just too big for the game

Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers scrambles past Seattle Seahawks’ Jarran Reed on Sunday in Green Bay, Wis.
Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers scrambles past Seattle Seahawks’ Jarran Reed on Sunday in Green Bay, Wis. AP

Each week throughout the NFL season, Mike Pereira, the league’s former vice president of officiating, will answer readers’ questions about officiating and league rules.

To put your questions up for Pereira’s review, email them to askmike@sacbee.com and include your name and location in the submission.

Q: I was confused by a series of calls near the end of the Seahawks-Packers game. With 3:09 remaining, Aaron Rodgers scrambled up the middle for 6 yards and a penalty was then assessed on Martellus Bennett for unnecessary roughness (15 yards), but the box score notes “enforced between downs,” and the next play is listed as 1st and 10. Why can a personal foul move the ball back 15 yards but not impact the distance needed for the next first down? This seems like a significantly less important infraction than one that carries both a penalty and impacts down and distance.

Chris Carson, Auburn, Maine

A: That’s a really good question, Chris, and one that is often asked. The rule is now the same in both college and the NFL. You don’t start a series first down and 25. The rule makers felt like the 15-yard penalty was severe enough, but yet to make it a first and 25 made it too severe. We all know that it’s an offensive game and it is tough to make a first down when you start first and 25.

There are exceptions. If the ball has already been set up and then made ready for play for the next down, and then the offense commits a personal foul, then it would be first and 25. If it’s an action against an official, let’s say an official is pushed after the first down is made, then you draw the maximum penalty as a player and a team, and that would make it first and 25. But really those are about the only two situations that would create starting a drive first and 25.

Q: With about four minutes remaining in Thursday’s Chiefs-Patriots game, Tom Brady was tackled in the end zone; he fell forward with the entire ball ending up outside the goal line when the ball reached the ground. The replay showed that most of the ball was still above the goal line when his knee touched the ground. None of the on-air crew mentioned it. Aren’t all potential scoring plays, including this possible safety, supposed to be reviewed?

Jim Eckman, Roseville

A: Hey, Jim. That’s a good question. A lot of people get confused by this. I saw that play and it looked to me like it was a safety. But it’s not all potential scores that get reviewed, it’s only scoring plays. So it has to be ruled either a touchdown, or a good extra point or, in this case, a safety. At that point, replay official jumps in and takes a look to confirm that it’s actually a score.

As you know, since it was outside of two minutes, it would have had to be a Kansas City challenge for that play to be looked at. Had the Chiefs challenged it, I think there would have been a good case to make it a safety. But Andy Reid decided not to do so. And really, the way that fourth quarter was going for the Patriots, it wasn’t necessary.

Q: As a longtime NFL fan, I remember the days when the NFL had the two white stripes on their footballs, similar to college ball. They were easier to follow on the field of play, in my opinion, for both fans and officials. Why were they eliminated for the nondescript all-brown ball, and do you anticipate them ever returning to play?

Jon Jones, Citrus Heights

A: You must be a long-time fan, Jon, because I really don’t remember stripes on NFL footballs. I do know that the NFL experimented with stripes, unbelievably in Super Bowl VIII. It was a short-lived experiment. The ball manufacturer and the league felt like it might be easier to see the ball especially when the lighting was not good. However, quarterbacks immediately complained about the balls being slippery when the thumb was on the white stripe. So the experiment, as I understand it, was one-and-done.

The NFL has stayed with the all-brown ball, now called “The Duke,” as the lighting in their stadiums is plenty good enough to see the ball. The college ball still does have the two white stripes, although they are only on two panels. If in fact it does make the ball easier to see, then it makes sense to keep them. I would imagine the lighting in UC Davis’ Toomey Field is not quite as good as the lighting in Levi’s Stadium. Besides that, the NCAA doesn’t want to use a ball that resembles the NFL ball.

Mike Pereira is a rules analyst for Fox Sports who lives in Sacramento.

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