Officials tapped into one of the rarely visited corners of the NFL rulebook when they flagged St. Louis for an "illegal bat" in the final critical moments of the Rams' 36-33 victory at Denver.
Chris Chamberlain, one of the Rams' best players on special teams, batted the ball out of bounds when fielding the Broncos' onside kick with about 2:40 remaining in the fourth quarter. The play violated rules because Chamberlain batted the ball toward the Broncos' goal line. It was the right call even though the ball went out of bounds almost immediately.
The Broncos were allowed a re-kick. Chamberlain caught this one cleanly, allowing the Rams to run time off the clock.
Officials have flagged 15 players for 15 illegal batting penalties during the regular season since 2002, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Chamberlain, the San Francisco 49ers' Alex Smith and the Washington Redskins' Chris Cooley drew flags for illegal batting this season. Officials previously hadn't invoked the rule since the 2007 season.
The Arizona Cardinals declined an illegal batting penalty against Seattle Seahawks punter Donnie Jones, now with the Rams, during a 2004 game at Sun Devil Stadium. The Cardinals' Gerald Hayes had blocked a punt. Jones batted the ball out of the end zone for a safety.
Rule 12, Section 1, Article 8 says a player may not bat or punch:
a loose ball (in field of play) toward opponent’s goal line;
a loose ball (that has touched the ground) in any direction, if it is in either end zone.
The rule also says "a backward pass in flight may not be batted forward by an offensive player".
Also: "If a forward pass that is controlled by an airborne player prior to completing the catch is thrown forward, it is an illegal bat. If it is caught by a teammate or intercepted by an opponent, the ball remains alive. If it is not caught, the ball is dead when it hits the ground."
Ten Rare Calls Since 2002
The chart shows the 10 penalties called least frequently (among those called at least once) during the regular season since 2002, according to ESPN Stats & Information.