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Illegal touching penalty costs Buccaneers against Saints

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost in their comeback bid against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday when the referees penalized them for illegal touching on the final play of the game.

The Bucs were down 35-28 and had a fourth-and-goal play from the nine with five seconds left. Quarterback Josh Freeman took a snap from shotgun, didn’t see anything, and rolled to his left to avoid pressure. He fired into the end zone for receiver Mike Williams, who caught what appeared to be a touchdown that would likely have led to a tie game

However, the back judge threw a penalty flag for illegal touching on Williams. Williams was pushed out of bounds, which made it illegal for him to touch the ball first — hence the illegal touching penalty. Analyst John Lynch incorrectly argued that Williams was eligible because he had reestablished himself inbounds.

Here is the official rule on eligible receivers, with the applicable rules boxed in red:

Lynch’s explanation would have been correct based on the “exception” listed in the rule book, however, it was not illegal contact on the Saints because Williams was pushed after Freeman had already left the pocket (per Mike Pereira). It was not pass interference because the push occurred before the pass was thrown.

What sucks for Tampa Bay is how close they came to tying the game on both of the last two plays. Not only did they have the Williams episode, but Vincent Jackson nearly caught a touchdown in the back of the end zone on the previous play:

He was ruled out of bounds.

The Saints escaped with a 35-28 win. Let’s give credit to the officials for getting some difficult calls correct. Can you imagine the debacle had the replacement refs been in charge?


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