One part of yesterdays game that left a sour taste in my mouth was the officiating on Brady's flop. I would love a rules clarification for how that could even be a penalty. Brady threw the pick to Barnett. Once the ball is picked, Brady becomes a defender. As a defender he made efforts to stop Barnett's return of the interception. At the time he was touched by Florence, Brady was in the proximity of the returner and making advances as if to stop Barnett. Florence barely touched him, and the histrionics began. That led directly to a penalty on Buffalo that effectively negated a great scoring opportunity.
This issue got me looking to the rules. How could this penalty occur. While I am in no way shape or form an NFL official or trained as such, I am trained as a lawyer, which puts me in a pretty good place to analyze these rules.
1- THE CALL MADE ON THE FIELD BY THE OFFICIAL WAS NOT SUPPORTED BY THE RULES, AS HIGHLIGHTED BY THE IMPROPER EXPLANATION FOR THE CALL.
I believe the problem here began with 2011 rule changes that expanded defenseless player protection to quarterbacks after interceptions. The relevant portion of the new rule is as follows:
Article 9: It is a foul if a player initiates unnecessary contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture.
(a) Players in a defenseless posture are:
(1) A player in the act of or just after throwing a pass;
(2) A receiver attempting to catch a pass; or who has completed a catch and has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a runner. If the receiver/runner is capable of avoiding or warding off the impending contact of an opponent, he is no longer a defenseless player;
(3) A runner already in the grasp of a tackler and whose forward progress has been stopped;
(4) A kickoff or punt returner attempting to field a kick in the air;
(5) A player on the ground at the end of a play;
(6) A kicker/punter during the kick or during the return;
(7) A quarterback at any time after a change of possession, and
(8) A player who receives a "blindside" block when the blocker is moving toward his own endline and approaches the opponent from behind or from the side.
(b) Prohibited contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture is:
(1) Forcibly hitting the defenseless player's head or neck area with the helmet, facemask, forearm, or shoulder, regardless of whether the defensive player also uses his arms to tackle the defenseless player by encircling or grasping him; and
(2) Lowering the head and making forcible contact with the top/crown or forehead/"hairline" parts of the helmet against any part of the defenseless player's body.
Note: The provisions of (2) do not prohibit incidental contact by the mask or helmet in the course of a conventional tackle on an opponent.
Penalty: For unnecessary roughness: Loss of 15 yards. The player may be disqualified if the action is judged by the official(s) to be flagrant.
The penalty called was unnecessary roughness. The explanation was something like driving the defensive player to the ground. I believe the intent was to call the penalty under Article 9 of Section 2 of the official rules - see above.
Read the official rule. Relevant portions are in bold. The QB after the change of possession is now a defenseless player. Separately, WOW. What a decision by the NFL to say a quarterback on the field is a defenseless player. All 6-6 and 250lbs of Cam Newton post-int. is a defenseless player - WOW. I don't understand that determination. I guess the NFL can't forget Warren Sapp on Chad Clifton or something.
Anyway, we know the QB per the rules is a defenseless player here. For a penalty to be proper, we next have to see if the hit was illegal. I find nothing in this rule that would make blocking the QB to be illegal, so long as there is no contact with the QB's head or neck.
My next question then is where the official got the idea that driving the quarterback to the ground on an interception return is a penalty. The alarming conclusion is that the official had no mastery of the relevant rules. I reviewed the NFL rulebook and found the portion of the rules that discussed driving a quarterback to the ground. It is below
UNNECESSARY ACTS AGAINST PASSER
(2) A rushing defender is prohibited from committing such intimidating and punishing acts as "stuffing" a passer into the ground or unnecessarily wrestling or driving him down after the passer has thrown the ball, even if the rusher makes his initial contact with the passer within the one-step limitation provided for in (1) above. When tackling a passer who is in a defenseless posture (e.g., during or just after throwing a pass), a defensive player must not unnecessarily or violently throw him down and land on top of him with all or most of the defender’s weight. Instead, the defensive player must strive to wrap up or cradle the passer with the defensive player’s arms.
This rule comes from the Section on Roughing the Passer. The roughing the passer protections apply to physical acts against passers during or just after a pass. The hit on Brady by Florence was WELL AFTER the pass was intercepted. It could not in any way, shape or form be considered during or just after a pass.
It is clear from reviewing this portion of the rule that the official relied upon the prohibition in this section against "stuffing" a passer to the ground as justification for the unnecessary roughness penalty. That call is AGAINST THE RULES. The stuffing prohibition is a penalty in a roughing the passer circumstances. At the time Florence hit Brady, the roughing the passer protections no longer applied. Instead, Section 2 Article 9 applied protections for Brady as a defenseless player. The officials explanation of the penalty (driving the defender to the ground) demonstrated, in my opinion, a clear misunderstanding by the official of the rules. It was egregious. To call a penalty on Florence there, it would have had to have been for hitting Brady around the head. Thats not what was called.
In short, as the rules show, Brady at the time of the penalty was protected from unnecessary roughness specifically by Article 9 of Section 2. The official penalized Flo. for conduct that is defined in the rulebooks as roughing the passer, at a time when Brady was no longer covered under the roughing the passer section. THE OFFICIAL WAS PLAINLY WRONG. WHATS WORSE IS THAT THE OFFICIAL VENTURED TO GIVE AN EXPLANATION, EVEN THOUGH, AS THE EXPLANATION SHOWED, HE HAD NO UNDERSTANDING OF THE RULES THEMSELVES. HIS EXPLANATION IS THE BEST EVIDENCE THAT HE DIDNT UNDERSTAND THE RULES.
2 - The conduct itself was not illegal, either under the roughing the passer section of the rules or under the defenseless player portion of the unnecessary roughness rules. Review it, its a joke. No further explanation needed.
3 - Florence is getting bombed by the media right now, and he needs your help. Google search "Drayton Florence flop" and you'll quickly find yardbarker.com posts, deadspin.com posts and other bombing Florence for taking a soccer grade dive. This is B-S.
Brady took a dive, which led to a Florence penalty. Florence was rightly miffed, especially since the officials don't understand the rules. Florence took the opportunity later in the game to utilize satire to make his point. When he got touched, he pulled a Brady and took a dive. Now the media has picked up on his satirical flop and is bombing him for it. Whatsmore, the media can't bother to take the time to put it all in perspective.
I implore you Bills fans to take to these blogs and boards and speak out in favor of Florence. Let it be known that Brady took the dive, and the Florence was mocking Brady. Don't let them bomb Florence for this.