In the dying moments of Monday’s primetime clash against the Detroit Lions, WR Calvin Johnson looked to be a moment from scoring. He caught a short pass in the red zone from QB Matthew Stafford, having gotten the edge on CB Cary Williams as the Lions trailed 13-10 with 1:51 to go and was rumbling into the end zone.
Instead, he was hit low by FS Earl Thomas, and as his body floated to the goal line, the long arm of Kam Chancellor punched the ball free. It bounced toward LB K.J. Wright, who turned and gave the ball a jab of his own, sending it out of play and causing the officials to signal a touchback.
Problem was, Wright wasn’t supposed to do that.
Wright pleaded ignorance of league rule 12.4.1(b), which states that a player may not deliberately bat the ball out of the end zone, lest he incur a 10-yard penalty and automatic first down.
“I wanted to just knock it out of bounds instead trying to catch it and fumble it (myself),” said the fifth-year linebacker. “I just tried to make a good play for my team. I didn’t know about that rule at all.”
It worked out alright for Wright. The back judge, Gregory Wilson, didn’t seem to know about that rule either.
Or, as NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said in a statement after the game: “In (the back judge’s) judgment, he didn’t feel it was an overt act, so he didn’t throw the flag.”
Blandino said the call is not reviewable, but a flag should have been thrown and possession given to Detroit.
With the luck involved in the no-call, it will be easy for many to forget Chancellor’s effort on the front end of the play. His teammates, however, focused on the safety’s punch, rather than Wright’s, after the game.
Thomas said he was stunned by the play.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “I just think that’s who we are. We’re finishers, we’re not going to give up. You just give us an inch of grass and we’re going to try to protect everything out there. It just felt great. I think this game definitely brought us together.”
The refrain was common throughout the secondary in the locker room.
CB Richard Sherman thought the play by Chancellor would help smooth over residual hostility by fans over his long holdout.
“(Chancellor is) a hardworking guy who’s dealt with a lot of flak, so I appreciate moments like this,” said Sherman. “Honestly, there’s been a lot of hoopla and talking about what Kam did, and I think that will quiet some of the critics.”
The play was a reversal of fortune in a fourth quarter that had gone south quickly for the Seahawks. A Russell Wilson fumble two possessions prior was scooped up and run in for a 27-yard touchdown by DT Caraun Reid to cut the lead to 13-10. Seattle’s previous drive fizzled in a three-and-out.
Then, Stafford lead the Lions on a nine-play, 80-yard drive that brought them into the red zone. He completed two to Johnson in the buildup to the final play, targeting Williams each time.
Williams said that Megatron was a challenge.
“(It’s tough to stop) a guy like that, that has down-the-field ability, a guy that can go up and catch the ball at any given moment, a guy that can run great, crisp routes,” said Williams. “I just wanted to step-kick, work on my technique, and just stay on top.”
Williams said that the decisive play took advantage of the tight coverage he was playing.
“He ran a snag route, where he went inside and came back out,” said Williams. “It was a good call, especially because I was trying to be aggressive with him down there, and then he used my aggression against me.
“He was able to catch the ball and get up field. So what I wanted to do was just continue to compete to the very end and try to get my hand in there.”
As Johnson stretched toward the goal line, Thomas came in from the right side.
Thomas’ recollection of the play was simple.
“I just closed my eyes and went low.”
Chancellor did the rest.
“(Johnson) had it away from his body,” said Chancellor. “I just punched at it.”
The rest will go down in history, though likely as one of those indelible moments that are used in referee clinics and talked about at GM meetings. The Seahawks were lucky not to be flagged for Wright’s mental lapse, but Chancellor’s play saved a sure touchdown.
After the game, Sherman said that such a dramatic finish would help the team band together.
“You’re forced to trust one another,” said Sherman. “You’re forced to lean on one another. The offense had to sit there, helpless, and watch as we decided the game in the final seconds. Sometimes, it’s the other way around, and the defense has to sit there helpless, and trust the offense. That’s how a win can bring a team together.”
Give them an inch of grass, they’ll defend it.