Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
Well. We delayed this post for a day in hopes that the NFL’s officiating supervisor would address the tripping penalty on Minnesota tight end Jeff Dugan in last Sunday’s 27-17 loss at Pittsburgh. Alas, league vice president Mike Pereira did not review the play during an evening appearance on NFL Network, as previously indicated.
I was particularly interested in Pereira’s explanation for two reasons. First, people both inside and outside of the game seem to be in mass agreement that it was a bad call. Are we missing something here? Second, Vikings coach Brad Childress spoke with Pereira earlier this week. When asked if he was satisfied with the explanation he received, Childress said: "I’m satisfied that I was able to tell my side of it and he could see my side of it." That response suggested that Pereira stopped short of admitting the call was wrong, but we’ll never know for sure.
Update: I contacted a league spokesman to see if any explanation would be forthcoming. The league's response: "It's a judgment call. We're not going to comment on it."
So we’re left to our own devices to understand the rule and its application in this case. When you watch the replay, you see Dugan lined up as an H-back -- in the backfield and in a two-point stance -- to the left of quarterback Brett Favre. At the snap, Dugan executes a cut block on Steelers linebacker James Harrison, diving to the ground just in front of him.
As Dugan rolls over, Harrison falls over him. Childress later noted that Dugan had a knot on his thigh as a result of the collision.
Referee Ron Winter called Dugan for an illegal trip, taking away a 10-yard touchdown pass to receiver Sidney Rice and penalizing the Vikings 10 yards.
As we noted Wednesday, the NFL rule book doesn’t help us much here. The league defines tripping as "the use of the leg or foot in obstructing any opponent (including a runner).” Everyone can have an opinion, but I don’t see where Dugan tripped Harrison under that definition.
On the replay, you see Harrison make contact with Dugan’s right hip, not his legs or feet. Second, the word “use” in the rule implies a conscious act. There’s no indication that Dugan was trying to use his legs to take down Harrison.
My guess is that the officials saw the ingredients of a trip and reacted accordingly. There is a frame in the replay where Dugan’s feet are in the air, right about the same time Harrison falls down. But Harrison didn’t fall over Dugan’s feet, and that position is an unavoidable physical result of rolling after a running start. Unless we’re all missing something, Dugan didn’t trip Harrison by the definition of the rule.
Below, I'll re-publish our updated Challenge Tracker for those who might have missed it Wednesday: