The League

Doug Farrar

Doug Farrar

A staff writer

Get it Half-Right, After the Fact


The NFL has a lot to answer for in the way rules are handled, but I'm not sure Hochuli's mistake will change that. There was an emphasis on quick whistles a couple of years ago after several turnovers were affected. However, the nature of the emphasis seemed to be, "Um, try not to blow a quick whistle, mmmkay?" The force-out rule was eliminated after a few really bad calls last season, as was the down by contact rule in replay. But those are apparently different cases, because the thought with a quick whistle after an incompletion is decided seems to be that player safety becomes a concern.

I have never seen a case in which the continuance of play after an incompletion somehow led to more injuries than the alternative, though I'm sure the NFL has reams of data it could show me.

So, fine, Keep the players safe. Everyone's in favor of that, right? The real problem, of course, is that Hochuli was not allowed to go back and reverse at least half of his error by calling the play a fumble and awarding the ball to San Diego. This is ridiculous -- he's already blown the call, and fairness is out the window at that point, so let's at least give the ball to the team that should have it. Hochuli is then publicly downgraded by the NFL for a bang-bang call that he's been given no discretion to mitigate. That's not fair to Hochuli or his fellow officials.

The solution in this case would be to allow officials to retroactively award possession correctly no matter when the whistle is blown. And if the Competition Committee gets that much out of it when the next meetings happen in March, 2009, one blown call will be worth it.

Still, that's no consolation for Norv Turner and his team. Denver and San Diego could very easily be competing down the stretch for playoff berths and the AFC West division title. If the Chargers' season is affected by this call, they'll need a lot more than the letter of apology they're going to get from the league this week.

By Doug Farrar  |  September 16, 2008; 8:35 AM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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You're exactly right. The explanation that I've heard, which I reject, is that the "play through the whistle" rule is in effect for non-quarterbacks only, because they want to protect the quarterback. They don't want a quarterback diving for a might-be fumble and getting hurt after a ref ruled it an incomplete pass. I reject it because I think a quarterback is going to dive or not dive for a ball regardless of whether they hear a whistle. If that Cutler fumble bounced a couple feet beside him he would have pounced on it before, during, or after he heard any whistle. That's what competitors do.

Posted by: Mike Nivven | September 16, 2008 10:24 AM

I also reject it because quarterbacks are professional FOOTBALL players. They get paid to throw the ball and get hit doing it. If a ball is loose, I expect my QB to dive on it, risking injury in the process if need be. There are (more than) enough special rules in place already. Maybe we should just dress them in red shirts and some velcro flags and declare, "hands off"?

Sorry, but as a Packer fan, I took pride in watching my guy get hit for 16 years and picking himself up every time. They're men, they're football players, and they're getting paid.

Posted by: Mike Nivven | September 16, 2008 10:29 AM

I state my bias up front - I'm a Raider Fan who hates Denver and Shannahan. Still San Diego got raped on this play (and the other mistake when replay was working). Not only should the referees have the authority to retroactively award possession, but the League should just declare the Chargers the winners of this game.

Posted by: RaiderFan | September 16, 2008 2:52 PM

Believe it or not I haven't seen this play more than once the other night so I don't have a clear recollection. But if the whistle has blown how in the world do you give possession to SD? The whistle blows, the play is dead, end of story. If the play is not dead when the whistle blows then when is it dead? Only when the team you think "deserves" possession has it?

Referees make mistakes. This one just happens to be really high profile. How many other things do you suppose the referees missed during that game? Some errors are bigger than others of course. But they aren't going to be 100% right all of the time.

Posted by: Glenn | September 16, 2008 3:36 PM

Okay. Let's use your theory and the Chargers Broncos game. Hochuli thought it was a incomplete pass and the whistle blew. Assume that when the ball was loose, a Bronco and a Charger were both chasing the ball. One player stops on the whistle like he is supposed to do and the other keeps playing and jumps on the ball. Who gets possession? Should the ref award it to the player in possession even though the other player stopped like he is supposed to? What do you do? Fact of the matter is mistakes happen and will always happen. Replay is not fool proof. Earlier in the Denver game, the equipment wasn't working. Breaks of the game.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 16, 2008 3:43 PM

The problem with the proposed solution is you're now telling players to ignore the first whistle and to continue playing.

That's like telling people to not worry about the cop with his lights and sirens on behind you trying to pull you over. If he's serious, you'll find out eventually.

In this particular case, even though the SD player continued through the whistle and got the ball, how do we know that a Denver player, wouldn't have knocked the ball loose from the SD player had he kept on playing? I know a quick whistle stinks, but I don't think the solution is to ignore them.

Posted by: Dsmac | September 16, 2008 3:51 PM

I have said from the beginning, that the issue with this play is not that the ref got the call wrong, but they he blew the whistle so damn quickly. And this happens A LOT!
I understand trying to keep players from getting injured, but they blow that whistle too quick too often.

Posted by: jonjj | September 16, 2008 3:56 PM

I don't know what your complaint is. Hochuli did rule it a fumble and possession was ruled after the fact--once the ball was dead. And the ball was dead once the whistle blew. At that moment nobody was in possession of the ball, thereby reverting back to the team that last held possession.

To try to do more would be to believe that the refs can foresee the future on any play. They can't and your suggestion that they should is pretty lame.

Posted by: infuse | September 16, 2008 4:04 PM

I believe the rule should have allowed the umpire to overrule his blowing of the whistle. He was wrong to have blown it so early. Maybe he was just taking a breath with the whistle in his mouth.

It surely was the wrong call as I saw it.

Posted by: jerry rubin | September 16, 2008 4:54 PM

The author is exactly right. Referee's must have authority to correct their mistakes on the field. I'm curious - what would have been Hochuli's "mark down" from the NFL if he had ignored any whistle, and said "Correction - it was a fumble" and properly awarded the ball to SD? Would his punishment, for ingoring a whistle on the play, have been more or less than what he gets for this non-correction? Who heard the whistle? The Denver QB said "everyone stopped" after the whistle. Who tackled the SD guy who recovered? He surely didn't stop. During last night's Monday game, the referee got on his mic and said "Correction" - to correct a mistaken call. With parity in the NFL and home field advantage sometimes decided in the first 2-3 games, it was very unfair to have this game taken away from the San Diego team by a referee's mistake. It would take a very strong Commissioner to say that, at the end of the regular season, this game will not be considered in the final AFC West standings. Some will say that will open Pandora's box on filing protests. No - it will only be considered if it is game changing clear mistake, not a judgment call, in the last 2 minutes. Only once in 10-20 years like this case, would the protest succeed. (Like baseball -almost never.)

Posted by: Lloyd Costley | September 16, 2008 4:57 PM

What about a "direction of the ball" guideline for refs? If the ball is or appears to be clearly moving forward upon leaving the QB's hand, blow the whistle and end the play; if not, allow play to continue and allow challenge that there was forward motion of the arm such that it was not a fumble.

Safety of the QBs is a concern, but I think this change would encourage QBs who know they are going to get sacked to just take a knee or at least protect the ball and take steps to protect themselves from injury. The QB in these situations nearly always (if not always) gets hit anyway. This removes the incentive to try to get off some sort of throw and thereby risk further injury rather than taking protective measures to avoid injury.

Posted by: Michael McLaughlin | September 16, 2008 10:29 PM

The readers against a rule change use the logic that a blown whistle signals the end of play, and any continuation of play would jeopardize player safety. However this situation of players attempting to recover a loose ball is not the same as hitting a defenseless ball carrier. Players are taught to pursue the ball as long as it is moving, and they are always subject to late hit penalties and even rejection if severe. For INFUSE, the idea is that a whistle would not make a loose ball dead. And for DSMAC, the SD player was touched while down by a Denver player who also did not stop pursuit, so there goes your “Denver-could-have-knocked-the-ball-loose” dream.

Posted by: R HARVEY BROWN | September 25, 2008 2:52 PM

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