Sunday, February 5, 2012

Worst Call In Super Bowl History

Photo by Ed Yourdon
I realize that it's hyberbolic to call today's safety call the worst in 46 Super Bowls. But somebody needs to do it. Right now, there are thousands of people out there Googling "worst super bowl call ever", and they need to be able to find something.

On the Patriots' very first play of the game, Brady dropped back in the pocket, couldn't find a receiver, and threw the ball away. The refs called intentional grounding, and awarded a safety because Brady was in the end zone at the time. WTF?!?

This led to 2 points for the Giants, and gave the ball back to New York, leading to another 7 points. The Giants' first 9 points were a direct result of this absurd call.

Brady didn't even throw it out of bounds like he normally does. And he didn't just spike it into the ground like Peyton Manning always does. He threw it 45 yards downfield.

I have never seen intentional grounding called on a 45-yard pass. Never. And I can't find anyone who has.

The average NFL quarterback "throws the ball away" a couple times per game. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady probably do it three or more times each game. Twelve minutes later, Eli chucked it out of bounds under similar conditions. But no grounding call.

I'm not blaming the game per se on that call. The Giants D played well, Manningham made an unbelievable catch, Eli was surprisingly accurate, and Welker couldn't hold on to the most important pass of the game. But that is certainly the worst call I can remember in a Super Bowl.

The offensive pass interference in Super Bowl XL was pretty dubious, but it was a judgment call that the ref had to make in real time. So if the ref see a lot of contact and throws a flag, that's the way the ball bounces. But on today's safety, the refs had all the time in the world to get together and make the right call, and they still blew it. That's the amazing thing. You can't criticize the refs too badly when they have to make a call in real-time on a close play. But when you have the time to get it right, you should get it right!

Considering how bad this call was, I'm surprised that Brady and Belicheck didn't throw a complete hissy fit. But keeping a level head was the right thing to do. NFL rules don't allow for a penalty to be overturned, so it's not worth getting ejected. Also, I think they were just stunned at seeing a call that has never been called in the history of the league.

Cris Collinsworth, in an attempt I assume to quell any controversy, did point out that the referee's call matched the rules in the rulebook: Brady was under pressure, in the pocket, and in the end zone. But he sounded surprised as he made this argument. As in "I've never seen this call before, but I'm being told that this counts as intentional grounding according to the letter of the rules."

Photo by Abqtrucker on flickr
Of course, Collinsworth and everyone outside New York knew it wasn't intentional grounding. It was just another QB throwing the ball away when he can't find someone open -- something that Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have been doing for 10 years (and a skill that has helped pave their way to Canton). If Eli Manning had made the same throw I wouldn't have been screaming for intentional grounding. It wouldn't have even have occurred to me. Instead, I would have been commending Eli for his poise in the pocket, and getting ready for 2nd down.

I have seen worse calls in the playoffs. But I haven't seen a worse call in the Super Bowl. Perhaps this is payback for "The Tuck Rule". By all common sense, Brady fumbled the ball in that game. But according to the rulebook, it was incomplete. So, this call was the same thing. Everyone knew it wasn't intentional grounding, but the refs chose this one play to apply the rulebook as written (and then ignore that section of the rulebook for the rest of the Super Bowl).

"Throwing the ball away" is so common in the NFL that we have a phrase for it. If every time you "threw the ball away" you were called for intentional grounding, we wouldn't call it "throwing the ball away"; we would call it "intentional grounding". And we wouldn't have every talking head on ESPN heaping praise on every QB who chucks the ball out of bounds instead of trying to force a play downfield.

Heck, even Madden even has a player rating called "Throw The Ball Away" that specifies whether a QB is more likely to thow an intentional incompletion or try to make something happen. And, as we already knew, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have high ratings in this area.

As an NFL fan, I would like to see intentional grounding called more often. The defense should be rewarded for getting pressure on the QB. But you don't all-of-a-sudden decide to start calling this penalty in the last and most important game of the season.

Related post: Worst Ad In Super Bowl History?

2 comments:

Keyser said...

Sorry but you are completely off base on this one. The refs do call intentional grounding on balls thrown away when the QB is still in the pocket, they are about to get tackled/sacked, and there is no one in the vicinity even when the ball is thrown downfield. Eli Manning got called for it in the 4th quarter of the Giants Jets game:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2011/dec/24/new-york-giants-jets-live-nfl

Manning has been called for this exact same thing before but I can't offhand remember which other game he was called for it.

Tony Romo got called for it in on a Thanksgiving play against Seahawks (Mike Pereira explamins the rule very well here):
http://www.nfl.com/videos?videoId=09000d5d80ce1ca8

He also got called for it in the 2008 playoff vs the Giants but I can't find a great description of it:
http://qctimes.com/news/local/article_2ed320fa-ff99-588a-aaa9-b69ecfbde8ae.html

I've seeen this called a bunch of times before, but obviously I don't log every play I've ever seen in my head.

When you see balls being "thrown away" that aren't called intentional grounding, it is because 1) The QB is outside the pocket 2) The QB is not under pressure but they throw it away when they see everyone is covered and decide they don't want to wait for something bad to happen 3) There is a receiver in the vicinity but they throw it in a way that the ball is not catchable (ie thrown at feet of receiver, thrown 3 feet over their head, thorw it out of bounds near receiver, etc.) This is the most common method I have seen.

Brady threw it to no one. There was no one within 20 yards of that throw. There was no one who broke off his route who he was trying to throw it to. Just watch Sound FX on NFL Network. Brady tells his coach he just threw it away because he was about to get sacked.

Chris J. Nelson said...

As others have said, you're incorrect here. Throwing the ball down the middle of the field with no one around under pressure is intentional grounding and it has been called before. Not only was this not the "worst call in Super Bowl history" but it wasn't bad at all because it was the right call.