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Letter: NFL needs to clarify rules on dead balls

Houston Texans return man DeAndre Carter’s decision to casually surrender a live ball to a game official rather than attempting to run the second half kickoff out of his end zone brought to mind another Bills game this season that similarly exposed a soft spot in the NFL rules that the league must certainly address.

In Buffalo’s Week Three game against the Bengals, the Bills’ Tre’Davious White intercepted a Cincinnati pass late in the fourth quarter and subsequently celebrated, with the ball in hand, by running downfield with a group of teammates, and out of his own end zone.

No opposing player touched White and the officials never whistled the play dead. At a glance, it appeared that White may have inadvertently surrendered a two-point safety. But the officials ruled that he had “given himself up.”

That was last Saturday’s decision as well in the case of Carter. The officials determined “after discussion that the runner gave himself up. Therefore it is a touchback.”

Did the officials in Houston last Saturday and Buffalo in September make the right calls? After discussion, maybe. In the moment, however, they were clueless.

Former NFL official John Parry during the broadcast called the referees’ conclusion “common sense football officiating.” Carter gave “a safe signal,” according to Parry’s analysis.

But what is a safe signal?

There’s no mention of such a thing in the NFL’s 2019 Digest of Rules. Could Carter have waved a 1960s peace sign, or tucked the ball under an arm in order to clasp his hands and say, “Namaste?”

Officials are responsible for declaring a dead ball, with a whistle or by raising one arm, beyond the now established proxies of a fair catch and a runner’s slide. But remember, during each of the plays discussed here, the officials never declared the ball dead.

Section Two of the NFL rules includes more than 1,000 words on what constitutes a dead ball, but the only clause resembling applicability in both of these instances is a runner “falling to the ground, or kneeling, and clearly making no immediate effort to advance,” which describes neither White’s nor Carter’s actions.

The solution is clear. Players must do what the rules state. Otherwise, it’s a live ball, gentlemen, and at least in last Saturday’s case, a whole new ball game.

Sal Albert


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