ORCHARD PARK, NY -- You probably saw what happened in the fourth quarter of the Falcons 29-15 loss to the Bills in Buffalo. If you didn't, here's a recap.
(If you did see it live, keep reading. Hopefully this refreshes your memory if it needs refreshing).
The Falcons were looking at a second and goal situation from the Bills' seven yard line. Matt Ryan stepped back in the pocket, looking for a receiver. When he didn't find one, he took off towards the goal line, diving across it as Bills' safety Jordan Poyer comes down over top of him. The call on the field was a touchdown, shrinking Buffalo's lead to a single touchdown's margin.
It was an emotional moment in the snowy swirl of the stadium. That emotion reached a boiling point even in the cold of the day when Ryan stood up, tossed the ball down in front of Poyer and said something to the safety who many watching thought got away with a no-call late hit. Ryan was immediately called for taunting. It was the first time Ryan had ever been called for taunting in his professional career.
The taunting call didn't mean too terribly much at the time, though. It was annoying for the Falcons, yes. But it wasn't a call that was going to change the game.
That is, until it did.
Before Younghoe Koo could send an extra point through the uprights, Ryan's touchdown run was reviewed. Upon further examination, Ryan was ruled just short of the goal line.
Without the taunting penalty, the Falcons would have come back out on the field looking at a third and goal situation from the one yard line. But because a taunting penalty still stands even after a play is reviewed, and even overturned, the call was enforced. Thus, the Falcons were pushed back 15 yards. And instead of third and goal from the one. They were third and goal from the 16. Two incompletions later, and the Falcons were giving the ball back to Buffalo to finish the game.
After the loss, Ryan broke down the moment in full, saying he was "disappointed" in the entire turn of events and how they transpired.
Ryan said - first and foremost - he wasn't trying to give himself up when diving head first towards the endzone. However, that was what he was ruled as doing in that specific moment. And the rule states that a running quarterback (when giving himself up) cannot be ruled down by contact but by where he is physically down by - in this case - his knee on the one yard line.
So, Ryan was down on the one. Seems simple enough. But if Ryan is down on the one - as the rule states - then there should have been a late-hit penalty called on Poyer. That penalty was not called. So, when Ryan stood, elated by the touchdown run and likely frustrated by the no-called-late-hit and said what he did, he was called for taunting. It was an unfortunate moment for the Falcons that was - interestingly - officiated correctly.
By rule, Ryan scored a touchdown but the call was overturned upon review.
By rule, he's short of the goal line.
By rule, you cannot call an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty of a late hit upon review. So, if it wasn't called on the field in the moment, it can't be called later.
By rule, taunting is a judgement call.
By rule, the Falcons not scoring a touchdown and being pushed back 15 yards on a penalty that wouldn't have occurred had the call on the field not been a touchdown... it's actually all accurate and correct officiating... By rule.
(Convoluted, I know).
Because of these rules and the strange way in which timing sometimes doesn't matter when enforcing a penalty, it left the Falcons in no man's land on Sunday. It's a vagueness in the rule that, ultimately, changed the direction of the game in its crucial final minutes.
For what it's worth, Ryan said after the game that he thought what he said to Poyer (which no one, not even Poyer, disclosed) "was anything that bad." There are a lot of things said in the heat of the moment on the football field, and because of that fact, Ryan was "surprised" he was called for taunting in that moment.
"Quite frankly I didn't think it was taunting," Ryan said. "But that's my opinion."
Ryan went on to say he shouldn't go into the call too much, but he would say, simply, that he was disappointed it happened, and cost the team the way it did.
"It's just disappointing how it shook out," Ryan said. "Whether I agree with either of the calls doesn't make a difference. Those are the rules."
And at the end of the day, the rules - even correct and even vague - shape the course of a game, and they particularly did in the final quarter of the Falcons loss to Buffalo.
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