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Dirty Laundry: Horsecollars and challenges

Let’s take a look at a couple of plays from Week 10, starting with a call that caused much controversy during our Tuesday chat over at SportsNation.

We all know that Detroit cornerback Phillip Buchanon made an exceptional play on Minnesota tailback Adrian Peterson at the Metrodome, catching him from behind on a breakaway and forcing a fumble. A secondary element of that play, however, escaped our original inspection.

Before punching the ball loose, Buchanon used his left hand to grab Peterson by the collar. This happened at about the 20-yard line, and Buchanon held Peterson’s shoulder pads firmly in this manner until ultimately bringing him down at the 5-yard line.

Was this an illegal horsecollar tackle? Vikings coach Brad Childress, among others, thought it was.

During our Tuesday chat, Shannon of Minnesota and Jim of St. Cloud disagreed. Both suggested the NFL’s horsecollar rule was intended to prevent the dangerous “yanking” process that could lead to injury. And as we’ve noted, Buchanon didn’t bring Peterson to the ground until 15 yards after original contact.

Here’s how the NFL rule book defines the horsecollar penalty:

Grabbing the inside collar of the back of the shoulder pads or jersey, or the inside collar of the side of the shoulder pads or jersey, and immediately pulling down the runner. This does not apply to a runner who is in the tackle box or to a quarterback who is in the pocket.

I contend that Buchanon was trying to tackle Peterson all along, if for no other reason than to keep him from recovering the fumble. He was trying to yank him down, but Peterson’s strength prevented that from happening immediately. That rare dichotomy shouldn’t exonerate Buchanon on that instance. To me, technically, it was still a horsecollar and should have been called thusly.

Our second play occurred in the fourth quarter of Green Bay’s 17-7 victory over Dallas. I know it’s been covered elsewhere, but we haven’t really discussed in this space a strategic lapse by Packers coach Mike McCarthy. (Referee Jeff Triplette, meanwhile, should be embarrassed. We’ll get to that in a minute.) As you might recall, McCarthy challenged a 4th-down reception by Cowboys receiver Patrick Crayton -- even though he had used both of his available challenges earlier in the game.

Triplette compounded the problem by beginning the review process before realizing, after several minutes, that the Packers were out of challenges. He then failed to apply this penalty required in the NFL rule book (stated in bold print, by the way):

Penalty: For initiating a challenge when all of a team’s time outs have been exhausted or when all of its available challenges have been used: Loss of 15 yards.

The incident should have given the Cowboys a first down at the Packers’ 14-yard line. I’m not saying this would have changed the course of the game, but it would have put the Cowboys closer to the end zone as they tried to come back from a 17-0 deficit.

McCarthy acknowledged earlier this week that he “made a mistake” on challenging the play. Every team handles challenges differently; I know I’ve seen some coaches hand the red flag to a sideline assistant when they’re either out of challenges or have entered the two-minute period where they can only be initiated by the replay official in the booth.

The Packers were fortunate the mistake didn’t hurt them, and Triplette is lucky that the game never got close enough for those 15 yard to matter. On that note, let’s update our weekly Challenge Tracker: