By Ben Austro, Football Zebras.com, special to NFP
Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano brought a new low to his special teams when, on a Saints field goal attempt, a specially choreographed shift was intended to push the Saints back five yards by inducing a false-start penalty. Jerome Boger's crew was not fooled by it, particularly umpire Tony Michalek. Michalek summoned over the two other officials who threw flags for a conference with Boger to discuss a rarely called foul: disconcerting acts.
The rulebook is clear: you cannot use unusual tactics or yell out simulated snap signals to deliberately confuse the offense into committing a false start. The trickery is costly, as Boger assessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Buccanneers. Rather than a 50-yard field goal attempt, the Saints were able to complete the drive with a touchdown.
The defense is allowed to shift multiple players at once. But lifting out of a stance, moving your feet, and extending your arms as if to initiate the contact coinciding with a snap is not strategically repositioning your coverage; it is only intended to fake out the offense.
Schiano thought he came up with a brilliant strategy, and he has obviously spent valuable practice time coaching curious tactics. The disconcerting action play is in the same playbook that has a blitz of a kneel-down formation. These schemes are bush league with the appropriate apologies to the bush leagues.
Down by those seven points the Saints scored on that drive, the Buccaneers had tried to send the game into overtime at the end of the game.
Illegal touching of a forward pass
On the final play of regulation, Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman threw a potential game-tying touchdown pass to receiver Mike Williams. Williams was pushed out of bounds and re-established himself in the end zone prior to catching the pass. However, once a player steps out of bounds, he may not be the first player to touch the pass, as this is a foul for illegally touching a forward pass. The exception is if a receiver is out of bounds caused by a defensive foul.
ICONGreg Schiano's actions led to the rarely-seen Disconcerting Acts penalty
There was a question if an illegal contact foul could be called against the Saints, and Williams would still retain his eligibility once he re-established both feet in bounds. Because Freeman was rolling out of the pocket at that point, it is technically a running play, and illegal contact cannot be called against the defense. Therefore, the push that propelled Williams out of bounds is legal. And, since the offense committed a penalty at the end of regulation, the game is over.
Those who believe that Freeman had not exited the pocket must keep in mind that the pocket is bounded by imaginary lines, and is always a judgment call as to when the quarterback leaves the pocket. When a quarterback has gone into a full sprint laterally and has surrendered the pass option from that position, the play has ceased to be a running play. Freeman's exact location at the time of the contact that put Williams out of bounds is not reviewable, and this was correctly called against the Buccaneers and not the Saints.
Decline the safety
A bizarre sequence near the end of the Seahawks-49ers game took two points off the board for the 49ers, but they probably shouldn't have been there in the first place.
On a last-minute attempt to tie the game in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks were very near to converting a fourth down. However, the Seahawks were flagged for an illegal chop block (generally, two offensive players engaging a block on the same defensive player high and low). In addition, since the penalty occurred in the end zone, it is a safety.
Walt Anderson made the call on the chop block, but a replay shows that the low part of the chop block was too high. The rule states that the block must be at the thigh or lower, but the low block was actually at the hip, so it is not a foul, and a safety was awarded in error. Anderson might not have seen exactly the location of the block, and he is instructed to make a call only if he actually sees it. However, the overriding principle from the league office is to err on the side of player safety and throw a flag for a personal foul whenever in doubt.
Because the Seahawks were short on fourth down, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh opted to decline the penalty, wiping out the erroneous safety. Even though the Seahawks would have been down by nine points and would have been required to do a kickoff without a tee following the safety, the Seahawks would still be permitted to make an onside kick. Harbaugh did not want to add any additional plays to the game other than a kneel-down, and so he wisely declined the penalty.
Ben Austro is the founder and editor of FootballZebras.com. Follow him on Twitter: @footballzebras