The NFL rulebook strikes once again.
This time, it helped overturn a miraculous Seahawks onside kick recovery in the final minute of their “Monday Night Football” game vs. the Washington Football Team. Had Seattle’s recovery stood, it would have allowed Russell Wilson to attempt a game-winning drive, down 17-15, after scoring a late touchdown (but failing the 2-point conversion attempt).
Unfortunately for Seattle, the call was overturned despite the fact Gavin Heslop appeared to recover the kick right at the 10-yard mark from the tee, the minimum distance the ball must travel to be recovered by the kicking team without the receiving team first touching it.
Here is the pertinent rule, which is laid out in Section 6-1-3 of the NFL rulebook:
“At least two players (other than a holder) must be lined up inbounds between the sideline and the bottom (outside) of the yard-line number, and at least two players (other than a holder) must be lined up between the top (inside) of the yard- line number and the inbounds lines.”
As the Football Zebras Twitter account noted in the tweet below, Seattle did not meet that criteria because it only had one player — running back Josh Johnson — line up between the hash mark and the number marking. Had linebacker Nick Bellore — the offending player in the illegal formation penalty — lined up a yard or so to his right, the play would have counted.
On a kickoff, at least two players must be lined up between the sideline and the numbers, and at least two additional players must be lined up between the numbers and the hashmarks. Only one kicking team player is between the hashes and the numbers: illegal formation. Great catch pic.twitter.com/8yMbYoI32S
— Fᴏᴏᴛʙᴀʟʟ Zᴇʙʀᴀs (@footballzebras) November 30, 2021
So, there you have it: A ticky-tack ruling, perhaps, but one clearly laid out and defined by the NFL.
It was a devastating ending for the Seahawks, which nearly recovered an ensuing second onside kick attempt. With the loss, they fell to 3-8 on the season. It was also difficult considering the Seahawks had finally mounted a scoring drive — albeit too late — after five straight punts in the second half, four of which were three-and-outs.
Wilson led Seattle on a 10-play, 96-yard touchdown drive in 2:04 of game time to put Seattle in position to score a 2-point conversion with 15 seconds remaining. But an interception by WFT’s Kendall Fuller on the play forced the onside attempt by Seattle. It should also be noted the Seahawks were only in that position because Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera elected to go for a late touchdown instead of a field goal.
The play was initially ruled a touchdown, but officials overturned it after they determined Logan Thomas did not complete the catch at the goal line. That decision nearly cost the WFT a victory. The Seahawks were just a yard away from claiming it.