Posted November 01, 2013

Did refs get controversial safety call right in Dolphins-Bengals game? Replay says yes

AFC East, AFC North, Cincinnati Bengals, Miami Dolphins
Bengals fans may not like it, but Bill Leavy correctly ruled a safety to give the Dolphins the win.

Bengals fans may not like it, but Bill Leavy correctly ruled a safety to give the Dolphins the win. (Lynne Sladky/AP)

The NFL vice president of officiating said officials ruled correctly on Andy Dalton’s game-ending safety Thursday night. The Cincinnati Bengals were not so sure.

Miami’s Cameron Wake dropped Dalton in his own end zone a little more than nine minutes into overtime — just the third time in NFL history that a game has ended on a safety. Referee Bill Leavy immediately made the safety signal as Dalton hit the ground, and he then confirmed that call on a replay review.

Appearing on the NFL Network’s postgame show, vice president of officiating Dean Blandino backed Leavy’s decision.

“The key is the position of the ball in relation to the goal line when Dalton is first contacted by Wake,” the NFL’s officiating guru said. “We had a great look at it, a look right down the goal line. And when Wake first makes contact with Dalton, the ball is breaking the plane of the goal line. If any part of that ball is breaking the plane when the contact occurs … it’s a safety. The entire ball has to be out of the end zone when contact occurs for it not to be a safety.”

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There’s no question that Dalton dropped into the Cincinnati end zone — his entire body and the ball crossed the goal line before he stepped up to throw. However, the controversy (at least in the Bengals’ eyes) arose because Dalton then crossed back over the goal line prior to being hit by Wake. The safety call stood because Dalton tucked the football as Wake tackled him, apparently pulling it back just enough to leave it in contact with the goal line.

Here’s a shot of the moment Wake hit Dalton, and the football looks to be (just barely) touching the goal line:

Dalton

That Dalton’s heel and shoulder still were on the goal line is irrelevant. All that matters is the position of the ball, just as only the tip of the football needs to touch the goal line for a touchdown to be called.

Rule 3, Section 29 of the NFL rule book directly addresses this:

A Safety is the situation in which the ball is dead on or behind a team’s own goal line provided:
(a) the impetus (3-15-3) came from a player of that team;
(b) it is not a touchdown (11-2).

The important phrase there being “on or behind a team’s own goal line.” Leavy, and later Blandino, determined Dalton had brought the ball back across the invisible plane of the goal line of his own accord before being driven fully into the end zone by Wake.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, at least at the time of the postgame press conference, did not see it that way.

“In my opinion … the ball was out of the end zone,” Lewis said. “I don’t know. That’s a quick look at the board. They got a little better-resolution look than I did.”

Dalton agreed with Lewis, though he admitted to not being fully clear on what was required of him to avoid the safety in that circumstance.

“It was tough. I don’t know exactly the rule, if it’s a foot, or if it’s the ball, or what it is, but from the replay I thought it was out,” Cincinnati’s QB said. “I don’t know. I’m not an official and I don’t know how they judge that.”

This was about as close as this particular call can get. Had Dalton been about a millimeter farther back into the field of play, the result may have been different.

That Leavy announced the call as “confirmed” following a review means he had enough clear video evidence to back his initial ruling. (“The call stands” is the phrasing used when there is merely not enough conclusive evidence to overturn the ruling made on the field.)

It looks as if Leavy got it right — and Blandino’s backing supports that. Bengals fans, though, may have a different opinion on the matter.

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27 comments
Jon8
Jon8

I am not a Begals fan, but I felt certain the call would be overturned on appeal! Your freeze frame us wrong! When Dalton is first contacted his back foot was in the air! If his back foot is in the air, the ball could not have penetrated the goal line at the point of first contact!

Blown call!

MatthewEugeneHaag
MatthewEugeneHaag

Man just stop whining.  The call was made.  Game over.  You can't change the result now just MTFO.

BritneyNicoleFreeman
BritneyNicoleFreeman

the refs shouldnt of called that after the first contact should have been at the half yard line they cheated ike the hit on sanu wtf why didnt you all call that.. refs cheated fr dolphins yours all mad because your team is sucking it up.. the refs blew this game

RickinUrMouth
RickinUrMouth

Considering all the plays that went the Bengals way, the fans can shut up. Bengals deserved to lose, the football gods were watching in the end. Dolphins beat Bengals and refs after losing to Patriots and refs a week ago, if you watched both games you'd know. I know, don't put it in the refs hands, and it's hard to argue that. But you can't argue that the calls that favored gave these teams 7 free points and momentum. I'm glad the fins got out of this one.

hoth733
hoth733

I miss the old days of football where if it looked like some guy got a touchdown or a catch or a safety for that matter, then people didnt get all anal about it and just accepted it (with a few exceptions). 

Andy Dalton was tackled in the endzone. screw everything else. 

mckimsey
mckimsey

I've seen this 10 times, and I still think its a safety.  Think of it this way, if there isn't enough light that the refs can spot the ball on the field, how could it not be a safety?

Word.

x72
x72

They was robbed

stephen.zinda
stephen.zinda

It's amazing that Dean Blandino doesn't even know the rules. He says that "if any part of that ball is breaking the plane when the contact occurs … it’s a safety. The entire ball has to be out of the end zone when contact occurs for it not to be a safety." That's not correct. If any part of the ball is breaking the plane WHEN THE PLAYER IS TACKLED it is a safety. If Dalton had reached the ball out as he was being tackled such that the ball was not crossing the plane, he would be entitled to his forward progress. In that case, it would not be a safety. In this case, the ball never came back out of the end zone so it does not matter. Regardless, it's funny that the guy in charge of knowing the rules the best explained the rule incorrectly...

Richard--Ramirez
Richard--Ramirez

If the Bengals were the patriots it would have been a roughing the passer call. 1st down brady & co

RickFernandez
RickFernandez

Well I'm a Dolphins fan and the way I see it after the atrocious officiating against us last week and a bad PI call on us earlier in this game, I'll take it and won't think twice about it, even if it wasn't a safety.


northtowntv
northtowntv

This still frame does not paint the complete play, the forward progress of Dalton at first impact of the tackle was a yard ahead of this spot..  I'm not a Dolphin or Bengal fan...but this shouldn't have been called.  JMO

Ronald Fuller2
Ronald Fuller2

I went and watched a different video that clearly shows the first touch the tackler had was that his helmet pushed the ball backwards. The above photo shows the result of the hit with the ball over the line. The ball was at least 20" in front of the line. By the definition of the rules forward progress is when the helmet was driving into the ball followed by the tackler. The hit started Dalton going backwards. 

Michael22
Michael22

The rule does not state it explicitly, but the offense must advance the ball 1 foot from its own goal line to avoid the safety, as the ball is 11" long and you cant have any of the ball "on" the goal line. 

If the play with Dalton seems close to the goal line, then it is a safety for sure since he needs to be another foot forward to have the ball spotted clear of the line.

DonTheGreen
DonTheGreen

Never feels good to lose, and for that matter, win, on a controversial call.  But the rule is the rule.  Sort of feels like that field goal when Patriots pushed through the line causing a penalty to give Jets another (easier) kick to win the game.  Glad I'm not a Cincy or Fin fan.

bingelistening
bingelistening

@hoth733 right. And you didn't have to wait 10 minutes after every big play to see whether or not you have reason to be excited. 

Maybe I'd feel differently if 100% of the calls were correct now, but they're not. There's too many ticky tacky things -- obvious drops going unchallenged, minor technicalities that make a catch a drop -- in the way. Personally, I think over the course of a season, officiating errors tend to even out and at this point I'd almost rather them just play the games without all the added scrutiny and additional time wasted for replays.

steelydan142
steelydan142

@stephen.zinda I think what Blandino meant by "...when the contact occurs" is:

 "...when the contact occurs that stops forward progress and leads to the tackle."

RickinUrMouth
RickinUrMouth

@Richard--Ramirez yeah, last week was garbage. Had to really earn it. I bet the statistics read our games are the worst officiated.

FifthInTheOrder
FifthInTheOrder

and a 100 yd penalty against Miami and 10 consecutive 1st downs awarded to NE

gregmastin
gregmastin

@RickFernandez No mention of the helmet to helmet shot on Sanu on the goal line interception? It went both ways.

me1
me1

@northtowntv It makes no difference where Dalton was...it is where the ball was at the moment of impact. Sorry...correct call.

bobinpowell
bobinpowell

@Ronald Fuller2 Link?  And where are you measuring 20 inches?  Which part of the goal line and which part of the ball?

ScottWarren
ScottWarren

@Michael22 Not necessarily.  What if the ball is parallel to the line?  In that case, the entire WIDTH of the ball must be in front of the goal line, not the length.  Either way, your point is valid, Michael.  The entire ball must be outside the line at the time of contact with the defender, which it clearly was not in this case.

BritneyNicoleFreeman
BritneyNicoleFreeman

thats what i was saying why didnt they call that and i dont think they should have called pass interference on pac man cause he tripped