I need to start an article like this by saying that John Harbaugh is a great football coach, which means there is a huge “but” coming.
However, the direction of Harbaugh’s blame after the loss is troublesome. I think most of his interview was accurate in the sense that the Ravens have done things each of the last 4 weeks to lose each game, rather than the other team taking it from them by force in any of those instances.
He singled out Timmy Jernigan as being responsible for Sunday’s biggest play when he came out of the end zone with the fumble he recovered. Let’s review the circumstances:
1. The Jets had 2nd and goal at the 6-yard line.
2. Matt Forte was stripped by Kamalei Correa (Guy is incorrectly credited with the forced fumble in the Gamebook, but that should be corrected) and the ball bounced loose, where it was recovered by Jernigan, facing the end zone, but at the 3-yard line.
3. It appeared to me Jernigan’s momentum carried him a yard into the end zone, where he promptly turned back up field and re-crossed the goal line.
4. Jernigan was stripped by Brandon Marshall at the 4-yard line.
5. Marshal also recovered the ball at the 5 to set the Jets up with 1st and goal on what would become the touchdown drive that gave them an 8-point lead and closed out the scoring.
6. The spot of the fumble and path Jernigan took is important, because the officials might have ruled that his original momentum carried him into the end zone, which would have given the Ravens the ball at the 3-yard line without the risk of a return out of the end zone.
7. It’s also possible the officials would have determined Jernigan entered the end zone without that being the result of his original impetus, in which case, the play could have resulted in a safety.
Jernigan’s fumble may well have cost the Ravens the game. However, Jernigan’s decision to leave the end zone is not a fair topic of criticism. John is, in fact, asking for an understanding of the impetus rules as they relate to his original momentum that I don’t believe many players have.
Here is a link to the 2015 NFL Rulebook. The discussion of impetus comes under Rule 11 (scoring), section 5 (safety), with exception 2 being pertinent to the play:
I submit that is not a reasonable expectation that any NFL player should A) know the rules for impetus and B) be able to predict how the officials will rule.
In fact, given the relative yards in question, I think it was an excellent decision to attempt to return the ball out of the end zone, it simply didn’t work out, because he failed to secure the ball properly.
So to be clear, Jernigan may well have cost the Ravens a game because he failed to execute ball security. But not because he selfishly or foolishly tried to make a play where none was available.
Enough about Jernigan.
Now let’s fast forward to 51-yard field goal blocked by the Ravens (Q4, 3:09). Again, let’s review the circumstances:
1. The line of scrimmage (LoS) was the 33-yard line.
2. The kick was spotted at the 41-yard line (thus a 51-yard kick).
3. The kick was blocked behind the LoS by Brandon Williams and caromed out of bounds at the Ravens 30, which is 3 yards past the original LoS.
4. The officials then spotted the ball at the 30-yard line, where the Ravens drive was to start.
5. Under the NFL rules (11-4-2, exception 3), that spot should have been returned to the spot of the kick, like all missed FGs which travel past the LoS and on which the blocking team makes no attempt to advance.
6. So the Ravens should have started their final drive at the 41-yard line.
If you are skeptical and want a corroborating example of correct application of the rules, you need look no further than one of the most famous Ravens games of all time, the divisional win over the Titans on 1/7/01. The Ravens blocked 2 FGs in that game, the second returned for the game-winning 90-yard TD by Anthony Mitchell which was the most important play in team history prior to the Mile High Miracle. The first block, however (Q2, 2:27, also by Keith Washington) rolled dead without a return attempted by the Ravens. The kick was attempted from the 35-yard line, and that’s exactly where the ball was spotted for the Ravens’ ensuing drive. Here is a link to the Gamebook from that day.
Back to the Jets game…the officials’ blunder is one which should earn them a downgrade from the league. It cost the Ravens 11 yards they certainly needed. However, I’m more concerned about the Ravens’ failure to get the spot reversed.
In the shot of the formation just before the play, there is no indication that any Ravens coach is screaming at the officials to correct the spot. With all of the blocked FGs in the special teams backgrounds of both Harbaugh and Rosburg, this situation must have occurred before, and probably several times.
In addition, the Ravens have a number of assistant coaches who could and should have caught the error. There was 45 seconds between the time the ball rolled out of bounds and the snap on the Ravens’ next play, plenty of time to review video and query the officials as needed.
It’s possible the Ravens did just that and were rebuffed in some manner. If so, the appropriate thing would have been to throw the challenge flag and say something like “I don’t think it touched one of our guys, so the ball should be spotted where it was kicked.” Under the 2015 rules, the touch of a kick is specified as reviewable. The officials are obliged to explain the challenge over the loudspeaker, which effectively formalizes the complaint. After discussion, I’m convinced the officials would have correctly spotted the ball at the 41.
So each of these took some time to explain, why should I include them in the same article?
John expected Timmy Jernigan to understand a complex rule (impetus as it pertains to a safety) and the likely interpretation by the officials in real time.
Yet John and his entire coaching staff could not communicate the proper spot of the ball to the officials following a missed field goal when there were 45 seconds to fact check.
That’s not a uniform standard of expectation.