Dirty Laundry: Sideline intrusion

On game day, every NFL team has what is often called a "get-back coach." Typically, it's a strength coach or assistant who doesn't have a strategic game-day role. Regardless, he's the one who regularly walks up and down the white boundary of the sideline, telling players and coaches to "get back" and avoid a penalty for inadvertently entering the field of play or obstructing an official's view of the sideline.

After all, here's what Rule 13, Section 1, Article 4 of the NFL rule book says:

All team personnel must observe the zone restrictions applicable to the bench area and the border rimming the playing field. The only persons permitted within the solid six-foot white border (1-1) while play is in progress on the field are game officials. For reasons involving the safety of participating players whose actions may carry them out of bounds, officials’ unobstructed coverage of the game, and spectators’ sightlines to the field, the border rules must be observed by all coaches and players in the bench area. Violators are subject to penalty by the officials.

Sunday night at the Georgia Dome, referee Jeff Triplette penalized the Green Bay Packers 15 yards late in the third quarter for violating a rule that generally doesn't reach the penalty stage. In his announcement, Triplette said: "They came on the field as the play was ending."

Triplette has been known to freelance a bit in his explanations, as we discussed earlier this season. Many of you have complained about the call. But in this case, his crew made a legitimate decision after an acceptable number of warnings.

NBC cameras caught line judge Jeff Bergman showing Packers coach Mike McCarthy two fingers, and McCarthy confirmed Monday that officials had previously given the Packers two warnings before calling a penalty on the third instance.

Replays showed the Packers' sideline exploding with emotion when two Falcons players, Akeem Dent and Eric Weems, seemed to collide with punt returner Randall Cobb at the end of a fair catch. The Packers were anticipating a call for fair-catch interference, and special-teams coordinator Shawn Slocum, among others, charged onto the field to greet Cobb and congratulate him for maintaining control of the ball.

Slocum made it about halfway to the numbers, or about six yards, before heading back to the sideline. After speaking to Bergman, McCarthy barked a few choice words toward Slocum. I don't know if Slocum was the offender Bergman identified, but by the letter of the law he would have been justified if he made the call because of Slocum's intrusion.

McCarthy said the blame lies "clearly on the head coach and our operation" and added: "I was disappointed to say the least. We had two warnings. I thought the officials did an excellent job … as far as communicating to us. It was a very emotional, energetic game. Our guys were into it, but we were sloppy on the boundaries. That is clearly on the coaching staff in making sure that everyone's back there."

This isn't meant to poke at the Packers' perfect record this season. Many of you have asked about this call, and I'm just explaining to you what happened. We've all seen players and coaches jumping onto the field after a big play. But usually, officials don't need to issue more than one warning to a sideline. It's well within their purview to issue a penalty thereafter. Ultimately, the Packers overcame the 15-yard loss and finished the ensuing possession with a touchdown.

As for why Triplette didn't call for interference of a fair catch, replays show that Dent didn't make contact with Cobb. I'm guessing that Triplette ruled Weems was blocked into Cobb, which is a debatable but defensible call.

Now, on to our 2011 Penalty Tracker after a week away: