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Ask Jerry Markbreit

My husband and I disagree about the reason that a ball cannot be advanced by the defense if it is recovered during a PAT. Can you help to settle the matter before it turns into a scuffle? Thanks. --Gretchen, Proctor, Minn.

The NCAA rules allow the defense to advance an unsuccessful PAT; and, if they score, the defense is awarded two points. The NFL rules prohibit any advance on a missed PAT. The college rule is an innovation that was added a number of years ago in an attempt to liven up a botched PAT. The NFL feels that it is not necessary to continue play after a PAT. These are simply rules that are different in the college and pro games.

Would you please clarify what the rules are regarding the communication between the offensive coordinator and the quarterback by the way of the offensive coordinator's headset and the radio in the quarterback's helmet? If I understand correctly, communication is allowed until 15 seconds remain on the play clock. If this is correct, how is the communication cut off between the two? What is the penalty if it is discovered communication continues between the offensive coordinator and the quarterback go past the 15-second mark on the play clock? --Adam, Cedar Falls, Iowa

At each NFL game there is a game clock operator, a play clock operator, and a coach-to-quarter back operator. The coach-to-quarterback communication is controlled by the coach-to-quarterback operator via a switch. When a play ends, the operator opens the channel by turning the switch, thus allowing the coach to communicate with the quarterback. You are correct that at 15 seconds the switch is turned off and communication between the coach and quarterback is suspended. The teams have no control and mistakes are never made in this area. Good question.

I have noticed that officials are very lenient when it comes to allowing coaches onto the field to argue a call they believe to be wrong. What is the actual rule regarding where a head coach can come onto the field and how much verbal abuse do officials allow before assessing a penalty? As a student who officiates intramural football at Northwestern, I find your articles very helpful. --Ray Garcia, Evanston, Ill.

I would like you to know that my officiating career began at the University of Illinois, working Intramural football. My hat is off to you. Coaches in the NFL are not allowed onto the field during play or after the play to argue with the officials. If a coach happens to wander out onto the field between downs, he is immediately told to get back to the sideline by the nearest official. The penalty flag would only be thrown if the coach came way out onto the field to dispute a call.

On the sidelines there are two people, one with an 'X' on his chest and one with a 'K' on his chest. What are these guys for? --Adam Longbotham, Albuquerque, N.M.

You are very astute in your observation of the people who assist the officials off the field. The people with an "X" on their vests are the regular ball boys who are constantly getting a ball to the nearest official when the ball goes out of bounds or is overthrown on a pass play. They handle the lion's share of balls being brought in from the sideline during NFL games. The people with the "K" on their vests only handle the special kicking balls, which are called K balls. These balls are only used on kick plays and are inspected by the officials before the game begins. The NFL has a rule that the kicking balls be separated from the regular balls that are used for all plays other than kicks.

Can you call pass interference on a defender if he is turned toward the wide receiver, not looking at the ball, waves his arms, but doesn't touch the wide receiver at all? Say the ball is in the air and hits the defender in the arm because he deflects the pass. Again, he doesn't touch the WR, but isn't looking at the ball either. --Dawn Polomsky, Phoenix, Ariz.

Many years ago, there was a penalty on pass plays for "face guarding." What you describe is face guarding. There is no penalty under current NFL rules for this act, unless there is physical contact. If the ball hits the defender, as you describe, the play would be legal. It is dangerous for a defender to turn his back on the direction that the ball is coming from. If he contacts the intended receiver, it would be pass interference because the defender is not playing the ball. You seldom see what you describe, but it would not be a foul.

A friend and I have a disagreement. In the Nov. 26 Redskins-Panthers game, the Redskins tipped a punt that then hit a Panther player after crossing the line of scrimmage. The ball was picked up by a Redskin player who tried to run but fumbled and was recovered by the Panthers. Why did the referee give the ball to the Redskins and not call it a fumble? Is the play dead as soon as the Redskins picked the ball up? --Mark Nejako, Woodbine, Md.

When a defensive player touches or tips a punt behind the line of scrimmage ,the touching is ignored if the ball continues beyond the line of scrimmage. When the Panther player, a member of the kicking team, touched the kick beyond the line of scrimmage, he committed a violation, which gives the defensive team the right of possession at that illegal touching spot if they choose. When the Redskins fumbled the ball and the Panthers recovered, the Redskins chose the spot of illegal touching by the Panthers and under NFL rules were awarded the ball at the spot of illegal touching. The play is not dead when the Redskins picked up the ball. This is a little-known rule of the game and was ruled correctly.

Can you explain the rule on downing the ball on a punt? Is the ball down where it is first touched or when it comes to rest or physically downed by a player on the kicking team? --Bill Rabeor, Rockford, Ill.

Under NFL rules, no player of the kicking team may touch the scrimmage kick beyond the line of scrimmage before it has been touched by a receiver. This is called, "the spot of first touching." If the ball continues to roll after the touching and comes to rest or is physically downed by a player of the kicking team, the receiving team has a choice of whatever spot gives them the best field position.

Hi Jerry, this is a great column you have. Your words have carried weight on many disagreements over rule interpretation. How officials deal with extreme weather? Players can rest, drink fluids and cool off or warm up on the sidelines, but who takes care of the officiating crew? I can only imagine what it would be like to officiate a game like the Ice Bowl, either the Green Bay or Cincinnati version. --Jeff Verdone, Bartlett, Ill.

Thank you very much. I am so glad that you enjoy the column. It is nice to know that you use my rules interpretations with your friends to settle disputes. The officials in the National Football League have the best cold weather gear available. The most valuable piece of equipment is a skin diver's suit, worn under the uniform, which keeps the body warm in the most extreme weather. Insulated socks and special gloves, along with face masks and hand muffs worn on the belts, are also standard equipment in extreme weather. The officials are on the field for an hour-and-a-half, without any opportunity for warmth in either half. But the constant moving produces body warmth and they all seem to get through it. I have personally worked many games in wind chills that were sub-zero, and I always made it through with no adverse effects. When we worked games in Green Bay, they always had steaming hot beef bouillon for the officials at halftime. You would be surprised how that warmed us up!

Hi Jerry. I had a question from the Bears-Rams MNF game. Late in the first half there was a booth review where they overturned a fumble and said that Grossman's arm was going forward and that it was an incomplete pass. But if you look at the replay, even though his arm was going forward the ball actually landed about 2 yards behind him, which I would think would constitute a lateral. Even though his arm had a passing motion, the ball went backwards, which seems like it would be a fumble. --Mike Schuman, Kenosha, Wis.

The initial direction of a pass determines whether it is a forward or a backward pass. In the Grossman play, the initial direction was forward, but the contact by the defense turned him slightly so that the ball went backwards. Under NFL rules, there is no lateral pass. A pass is either forward or backward, and, if a ball is thrown laterally, it is considered a backward pass, and anyone on either team has the right to recover and advance.

Jerry, in yesterday's Cardinals-Seahawks game, a controversial play occurred when receiver Larry Fitzgerald and linebacker Julian Peterson each grabbed a pass at the same time. When Fitzgerald's knee hit the ground, both players appeared to have possession of the ball. Peterson wrestled the ball away from Fitzgerald about a second later and possession was awarded to the Seahawks. Does the rulebook say that in this situation, a tie goes to the receiver, or is this strictly an official's judgment as to who gets possession? --Dan Agnell, Sumerduck, Va.

I'd like to quote the rule for you regarding "Simultaneous Catch." "If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opposing players who both retain possession, the ball belongs to the passing team. It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and retains control, regardless of subsequent joined control of an opponent. If the ball is muffed after simultaneous touching by two such players, all the players of the passing team become eligible to catch the loose ball."

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