Rules Rant: Zeke on 4th and 1

Complaining about officiating is loser talk… but since we won, that can’t be the case.

The way the refs were going, though, it almost was. From the first drive, when Blake Martinez learned that contact that is legal in touch football is a personal foul in Dallas, there were bad calls (mostly on one side). The worst one, however, ensured we would have an exciting ending.

With the Packers up 4 in the 4th quarter, Dallas was at the Green Bay 20 facing 4th and 1. Dean Lowry blows up the whole interior line, linebackers fill in the gaps, Zeke is stopped short. Then he gets cute and flashes the ball past the line and pulls it back. The refs make the right call, that he was stopped, then review it, see that they were right, and overturn their correct call.

The NFL Rule Book is only a bit unclear on this topic (kind of a surprise, actually, considering all the lawyers and nonsense that went into creating it), but if you use logic, it becomes very clear.

Here’s the actual rule:



The Forward Progress of a runner or airborne receiver is the point at which his advance toward his opponent’s goal ends and is the spot at which the ball is declared dead by rule, irrespective of the runner or receiver being pushed or carried backward by an opponent.


Now it’s the last part that is key “irrespective of the runner… being pushed or carried backward by an opponent.”

See the emphasis I added? It’s the unwritten part of that section of the rule that bears weight on this particular play. If a defender pushes a player back, he still gets forward progress. If we didn’t have this rule, the NFL would become a WWE-style team event where the defense just tried to pickup dudes and haul them backwards all game.

So it’s a good rule for stopping that.

However, if an offensive player willingly goes backwards on his own accord, that’s another story. We don’t have rules that allow a player, whenever he gets far enough, to just run all over the place backwards trying to set up a bigger play like he’s Techmo Bo and still claim forward progress (no matter how fun it might be). No, if an offensive player willingly goes backwards and gets tackled, he’s down right there.

That’s what happened here. He stuck the ball out and pulled it back, the ball is down where he pulled it back to.

Don’t confuse the first down line with the goal line.

If the ball breaks the goal line, the play is immediately over and it’s a touchdown no matter what happens next – he doesn’t have to get into the end zone and get tackled there. But when you’re going for a first down, the play doesn’t stop when you break the first down plane (which isn’t even really a thing). A runner can go backwards and lose yards – it happens all the time when a receiver is trying to be slick and takes a step back looking for a better angle forward. If he gets tackled after running a yard or two backwards, that’s where he’s down.

It’s the same thing for running backs.

Unless your Zeke and you’re in Dallas, apparently.


2 thoughts on “Rules Rant: Zeke on 4th and 1”

  1. When I moved into my house my wife wanted to paint the bathroom. So we took everything off the walls and painted. As part of this we got a new towel rack, which I gleefully hung (yay getting to use tools) above the toilet.

    A couple of months ago my buddy came down from the bathroom and asked, “doesn’t it drive you crazy looking at that crooked towel rack every time you go to the bathroom?”

    Now, every damn time I go in the bathroom all I can see is the ever-so-slightly uneven towel rack. Every. Time.

    You just did that to me for this play.


    (at least I don’t have to watch the replay every time I have to take a piss)

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