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Saints - Buccaneers: Explaining the final illegal touching call


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost a close game on a controversial call at the end of the game - but that call was correct. Let's go to the play, before explaining why it's correct.

This was called as illegal touching, because Mike Williams was the first player to touch a forward pass after going out of bounds. John Lynch as a commentator made the comment that if Williams re-established himself in bounds, this play would be legal - and he certainly appears to do so. Unfortunately, John Lynch is wrong. As SB Nation explains, re-establishing yourself in bounds does not matter:

According to Rule 8, Section 1, Article 8 of the NFL Rule Book (PDF), "[i]t is a foul for illegal touching if a forward pass (legal or illegal), thrown from behind the line of scrimmage ... (b) first touches or is caught by an eligible receiver who has gone out of bounds, either of his own volition or by being legally forced out of bounds, and has re-established himself inbounds."

Well, that's pretty clear, right? He went out of bounds, came back in, touched the ball first - that's a penalty. But what about the reason why he went out of bounds? He was pushed - isn't that illegal contact on the defensive back?

Turns out: nope. There is no illegal contact on plays when the quarterback is out of the pocket - and Freeman most certainly was out of the pocket on this play. Here's that rule (Rule 12, Section 1, Article 6 - PDF):

Note 1: Once the quarterback or receiver of the snap hands off, is tackled, throws a forward or backward pass,
loses possession of the ball by a fumble or a muff that touches the ground, or if the quarterback leaves
the pocket area (see 3-24), the restrictions on the defensive team relative to offensive receivers (illegal
contact, illegal cut block) will end.

The play may look like it should somehow count for the Buccaneers - but it was called correctly. That call ended the game. None of that would have been necessary had the Bucs simply put the game away earlier, had gotten a stop in the first half, or had scored from the one-yard line on one of four downs after a 95-yard Vincent Jackson catch. Instead, they are now 2-4.