Cleveland Browns Think Bengals’ Touchdown Was Illegal … and it was

The Bengals beat the Browns 27-17 in their season opener Sunday in Cleveland. Cincy blew a 13-0 lead and trailed 17-13 in the fourth quarter before Bruce Gradkowski hit rookie A.J. Green for the go-ahead score (video here). It was Green’s first and only catch of the game, and it only happened because the Bengals caught the Browns off-guard. Actually, they quick-snapped Cleveland on the play, something Browns head coach Pat Shurmur believes is illegal.

“They quick-snapped us,” Shurmur said after the game. “I’ll have to watch the tape, but it’s my understanding they changed personnel, lined up and then quick-snapped. There’s rules that go along with that, so we’ll see. My understanding is when the offense changes personnel, the defense is allowed to do so as well and have time to do it.”

Shurmur is correct. Rule 5, Section 2, Article 10 of the rule book (cited by the Cleveland Plain Dealer) regarding Defensive Matchups Following Substitutions says:

If a substitution is made by the offense, the offense shall not be permitted to snap the ball until the defense has been permitted to respond with its substitutions. While in the process of a substitution (or simulated substitution), the offense is prohibited from rushing quickly to the line of scrimmage and snapping the ball in an obvious attempt to cause a defensive foul (i.e., too many men on the field).

The officials are not supposed to allow the offensive team to snap the ball until the defensive team has had time to make its substitutions. They also have the ability to call an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the offense.

It’s too late to do anything about the touchdown but at least all referees should be more mindful of this tactic. The Bengals pulled a fast one and got away with it, but they probably won’t be able to do it again the rest of the season. Not only will opposing teams be prepared for it, but the referees should be too.

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  • Anonymous

    The rule is you have to let the defense SUBSTITUTE if the offense does
    so. There is nothing that says the defense gets to take it’s time
    setting the play or the aligning themselves — only that the the defense
    has the opportunity to change personnel and do so within a reasonable
    amount of time.  In other words, they can’t sit there for fifteen seconds thinking about
    it. The offense dictates the tempo of the game.

    If you review the play and the play prior, the Bengals did
    indeed substitute Leonard for Benson with Shipley, Simpson, and Green
    and Gresham. However, the play was run with 16 seconds left on the
    play clock AND the formation set in position for two seconds. So Shurmur
    is right, there was a sub, but this demonstrates the second half of the
    principle put forth….just because you are allowed time to sub, you
    aren’t given the privilege of dictating the pace of play. If
    necessary, the guy subbing must forgo a huddle call if the offense is
    ready to snap the ball, and just jump in where the captain instructs.