Wait…What Just Happened? : Illegal Touching of a Forward Pass

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And here we welcome in a new feature: Wait…What Just Happened? Because something weird happens every week in the NFL, and learning about it will help us be able to spot it again the next time it happens.

This week, it’s the case of the Illegal Touching of a Forward Pass penalty that ended the Saints vs. Creamsicles Bucs game. Here’s the play:

Here’s the breakdown of why that didn’t count as a touchdown…it’s an explanation with several moving parts and it’s truly one of the more ridiculous NFL rules:

Step 1: Josh Freeman left “the pocket” – the imaginary box marked off by where the five offensive lineman are playing. Because Freeman was operating outside of the pocket, the Saints defender (Robinson) shoved the receiver (Williams) out of the endzone legally. I’m not going to pretend to know why that’s defined as a legal move, but it is. Let’s just go with it.

Step 2: Williams came back into the endzone after being pushed out of bounds. He caught the touchdown with both feet in bounds, but because he was the first player to touch the football after re-entering the field of play, it was an offensive penalty. Specifically: an Illegal Touching of a Forward Pass penalty.

Here’s the technical explanation from Rule 8, Section 1, Article 8 of the NFL’s official rule book:

Illegal Touching of a Forward Pass. It is a foul for illegal touching if a forward pass (legal or illegal), thrown from behind the line of scrimmage:

(a) is first touched intentionally or is caught by an ineligible offensive player; or

(b) first touches or is caught by an eligible receiver who has gone out of bounds, either of his own volition or by being legally forced out of bounds, and has re-established himself inbounds.

So, basically, a receiver can’t come back in bounds after being out of bounds and be the first person to touch the football. Incidentally, if the pass had been tipped and then caught, it would have been a legal touchdown.

This is the type of stuff that makes football an endeavor in lifetime learning. (And this is why the replacement refs had such a hard job…can you imagine learning all of the rules and all of their odd nuances in just a few weeks?! Tall order.)