On the Bills' last play of the their 31-25 Monday night loss, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman was seen flattening receiver Walt Powell. Unlike his earlier hit on kicker Dan Carpenter, no penalty was given.
So why wasn't there a flag? Why didn't the Bills get another play?
The answer seems to be that because quarterback Tyrod Taylor had scrambled outside of the pocket on the play, he became a runner, which gives defenders privileges to hit receivers as if they are blocking for a runner.
NFL Rule 8, Section 4, Article 1 says defenders are allowed to make "continuous and unbroken contact within the five-yard zone, so long as the receiver has not moved beyond a point that is even with the defender."
Article 3 adds, "Beyond the five-yard zone, if the player who receives the snap remains in the pocket with the ball, a defender cannot initiate contact with a receiver who is attempting to evade him." And finally, in Article 7: "If the quarterback leaves the pocket area with the ball in his possession, the restrictions on illegal contact and an illegal cut block both end."
Taylor was well out of the pocket on the play and is shown here setting up near the number 20.
Tyrod outside the pocket at top of screen, Sherman about to hit at bottom of screen. Not illegal contact pic.twitter.com/DWZfGDR7xi
— Tom Gower (@ThomasGower) November 8, 2016
The website Football Zebras wrote a post about this play as well, coming to the same conclusion. ESPN's Ed Werder passed along this note Tuesday morning:
#NFL concludes Richard Sherman play end of game was legal. QB out of the pocket so illegal contact rules go away. Didn't hit WR in the head.
— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) November 8, 2016
The referees sure screwed up on Monday, just not on this one.
(A note about unnecessary roughness: That's strictly a judgment call by officials – as long as it's not a head shot, which this wasn't – and there's an official watching the play right on the goal line. I always thought "unnecessary roughness" was a bit of an oxymoron; massive amounts of roughness are required to play football. What this really aims to penalize is unnecessary violence, but that name probably doesn't play as well for families watching on television. So while this play was full of roughness and violence, it was violence inside of what they determined to be a football play – hitting a blocker – and not violence just for the sake of violence. You may not agree with that, but that's the line of thinking.)