Down by Contact?

OK, the Chiefs are officially the Team Everybody Hates.

They played Carolina yesterday, had no shot at the playoffs, could only ruin things for the Panthers, and, after playing like crap, ended up winning the game on a controversial call.

Here in KC, we’re really proud. :rolleyes:

But, I have 2 questions:

  1. What does it mean when a player is ruled, “Down by Contact?”

  2. In yesterday’s game, the Chiefs last fumble was recovered in a way that made it impossible to determine which team had posession. The officials avoided the issue with the aforementioned “Down by Contact” call, but, what would they do if that call was not an option? What do the officials do when the refs on the field and the replay officials simply can not see enough to make a call? I know that, in basketball, refs will sometimes simply follow the Posession arrow… is there any of this sort of “coin-flipping” in football?

I think the answer to the first question is that when a player with ball has his forward progress stopped the referees then blow the whistle ending the play. This happens when a back has jumped into a pile or a defensive player is holding up the offensive player and is trying to strip the ball.
The answer to the second is whoever had the ball last would retain possesion.

“Down by contact” means just that, the person carrying the ball is adjudged to be ‘down’ by having contacted the ground after initially being touched by an opponent, said touch being adjuged to have been part of the cause of going ‘down’. Let’s follow this through by looking at how it works. I’m not going to cite the official NFL rules, because I’ve never found a web site on which they can be found; BobT can correct any errors I make. :slight_smile:

The ball is in play from the moment it is snapped by the center until one of three things happen: a) it goes out of play (i.e. out of bounds), b) the team in possession of the ball scores, or c) the player in posession of the ball is forced by contact with a member of the opposing team to contact the ground with a part of his body other than his feet or hands. When c) occurs, the player is said to be ‘down by contact’. A player will be adjudged down in the additional instance that his forward impetus has been clearly halted and he is unable to procede because he is in the control of opposing players.

When the player is down, the officials are obligated by the rules to signal this fact by blowing their whistle. This signal ends the play, even if the signal was erroneously given. The assumption is that one or more of the players will hear the signal and assume the ball is dead, and act accordingly.

In the case where there is some question as to whether a fumble actually occured before the player was ‘down’, there can be no review if an official ruled the player was down without realizing that a fumble had occurred and so indicated by blowing his whistle. This is because the question of whether or not a fumble occurred becomes moot: the whistle ends the play and we don’t want to encourage these guys to ignore a whistle.

There are some limited instances in football where rules apply to ‘simultaneous’ touching of a football, or simultaneous possession. For instance, if a receiver and a defensive back both gain possession of a pass simultaneously, then the rule is the receiver has legal possession. However, in football, as in baseball, soccer, basketball, and every other sport I have been associated with, officials do NOT as a rule assume that the fact they are to determine cannot be determined; instead they try their best to determine the fact given what they witnessed. As a soccer official for some 11 years now, I have never ruled that a ball went out of play as a result of simultaneous touches by opposing players; I always have some judgment (erroneous or not) as to which player last touched the ball.

  1. Don’t forget that a player is down by contact if a knee is on the ground by his own action (i.e. a slip) and is touched by an opposing player.

  2. If the officials did not see who recovered the ball but did see a fumble, and if replay turns up nothing definative, they award possession to whichever team has possession when they pull everyone off the pile. To hear sportscasters tell it, the ball can change possession a dozen times before the officials get to it, but I’ve never seen anyone have the ball who didn’t have it on replay when the pile formed above him.

I don’t know if this is what happened as I am unfamiliar with the play, but a fumble cannot be caused by the ground after the player is hit. Of course, if a carrier falls without contact, the ball is not dead. He can get up and continue running. If his knee touches the ground after being hit, the referee must blow his whistle. However, even if the referee’s whistle is late, or he failed to blow it, a “fumble” caused by contact with the ground is not a fumble.

You accurately described a tackle, but ‘down by contact’ carries the connotation of ‘down without touching the ground’. In the case of quarterbacks it has been taken a step further to ‘in the grasp’. Down by contact generally applies, as puddlegum stated, when the ballcarrier’s forward momentum has been stopped and the officials declare the play over by blowing the whistle. Most commonly you will see this when the ballcarrier is being pushed backwards by the opposing team, even though they never brought him to the ground. It would also apply in the examples puddlegum cited.

And what’s all this crap about “the ground can’t cause a fumble”, huh? Of course it can - didn’t you just see it?

Sheesh - if you can’t hold onto the ball when you’re just falling down, you don’t deserve to keep it.

If the “fumble” is caused by the contact with the ground, it is my understanding that it is not a fumble. That was the rule several years ago, the last time I watched football. It may have been changed recently, but unless it has been, that’s the rule.

I always thought it silly that people seem to object to that “the ground can’t cause a fumble” idea. As has been pointed out, that phrase is an oversimplification - if a guy just trips and falls, and the ball pops out when he hits the ground, it most certainly is a fumble. However…

If I recall the rule correctly, a runner is “down” when any part of his body besides the feet and one hand contact the ground. (It’s often simplified to “a knee” because that’s frequently what hits the ground first.) “Down” does not necessarily mean “dead” in the NFL - contact with an opposing player is necessary, in general.

Now, if a player is tackled, the ball is dead and the play over the instant that he becomes “down” as described above. Whatever happens after that is irrelevant - if the ball pops out, so what? The play’s over.

Now, if the ball pops out before he actually hits the ground, it’s another matter entirely…

The “ground doesn’t cause a fumble” just means that if a player loses the ball because his contact with the ground jars the ball out of his hands, there is no fumble. Instead the player is considered to be tackled first.

Remember that in college football, you are considered down anytime the ball carrier touches the ground with any part of his body other than his hands or feet.

I’ve never seen a fumble where opponents both have their hands on the ball in the pile. Usually someone manages to rip it out. Punching and grabbing particular parts have been employed to ensure this.

No, DSYoungEsq is correct. “Down by contact” means the player is “down” (his knee or arm or ass, etc. has touched the ground) as a result of, or while under, the “contact” of an opposing player. Yes, in other words, he has been “tackled.” The play has been blown dead.

In the situation in the OP. the officials are saying in essence “The point is moot, it doesn’t matter if he fumbled or not because we blew the whistle thereby ending the play.” It is not reviewable because, having blown the whistle, the results would now be skewed if they allowed an action by a player after the whistle to count.

What you and puddleglum discuss is a situation where the official blows a play dead not because a player is “down”, but because the defense has “halted the player’s forward progress.”

Not quite on the OP, but :confused on what constitutes being “down.” I thought in pro ball, a player’s knee or knees must touch the ground. A prior post said in college ball, it can be any part of the body, other than the feet and hands. Well, OK. What about pro ball?

I’m not sure about the NFL, but I think that part of being “down” means that some part of the runner’s body other than his feet or hands touched the ground.

Logically that makes sense to me. If the knees were the defining part, it would never make sense to knock a runner backwards on to his back to tackle him.

It’s the same as far as what parts of the body (i.e. anything other than hands and feet), the difference between college and pro is that if a college player’s knee hits the ground, without him having been touched by an opponent, he’s still down. In the pros, if a guy slips on his own, and his knee, or arm, or ass, or whatever hits the ground, he can get and continue so long as he wasn’t touched.

Its the same in pro ball only contact with an opposing player is also required… if you get hit and you butt or elbow or side or head or whatever hit the ground you are down. It doesnt have to be your knee… it just frequently is… and yeah, if they dont see who recovered it first, then whoever comes out of the pile with it… and no that is always who recovers it first…

Perhaps someone who actually has a copy of the rules can confirm, but I’m not sure an elbow = a knee.

In the play at the end of the Chiefs game yesterday, both players attempting to recover the fumbled ball grabbed it at what appeared to be exactly the same time.

A heap of somewhere near 10 bodies appeared on top of them, complete with grabbing, pushing, punching, etc. One of the Carolina players standing outside the pile was tugging on a Chiefs player’s ankle!

Anyway, when they finally sorted it out, a Carolina player had the ball. But, since Richardson (a Chief) had been ruled “Down by Contact,” the ball remained in KC posession.

Ugly play.

I remember watching a pro game (I believe it was earlier this season, but it could have been last year) where a rookie receiver made a spectacular catch, fell to the ground, got up, and joyously spiked the ball - whereupon a veteran defender promptly picked up the ball and ran in his favorite direction for awhile.

The rookie had forgotten that, since he hadn’t been touched by an opposing player, by the NFL rules the play wasn’t over yet and the ball was still live. My guess is that he hasn’t forgotten that rule since <g>.

I don’t have a copy of the NFL rules (which are over 200 pages long and have a volume of interpretations of similar length), but I would have to assume that if a runner’s elbow hits the ground as the result of contact, he’s down.

The only scenario I can picture when a runner only has his elbow on the ground (along with his feet) is when he is catching a pass.

Discerning the NFL Rule Book’s numerous shades of meaning requires Solomon-like wisdom at times.

I think DSYoungEsq must like soccer’s rules since they are reffered to as “The Laws of the Game.”

Plaxico Burress was the receiver.

I imagine he thought an opposing player made contact with him, and thus he was down and the ball had been whistled dead. Of course, he shouldn’t have made that assumption–to say nothing of listening for a whistle. A player should NEVER stop until he hears the official’s whistle.