FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- One question that came up in the aftermath of the Patriots' 42-20 win over the Colts was why the team wasn't awarded a safety late in the third quarter.
On the play, which came with 3:34 remaining in the quarter, kicker Stephen Gostkowski's bouncing kickoff was not initially handled by Daniel Herron or Griff Whalen at the 3-yard line, as they collided with each other. Then Whalen attempted to pick up the football, but instead, the football wound up in the end zone as either a result of it slipping through Whalen's grasp or it making contact with his foot as he reached down.
Colts linebacker Andrew Jackson then pounced on the football in the end zone as he was touched down by Patriots players, who immediately signaled for a safety.
Instead, referee Pete Morelli and line judge Dana McKenzie ruled a touchback, with Morelli explaining over his microphone, "During the kick, the receiving team never had complete control of the ball. By rule, that's still the impetus by the kick. It is a touchback."
This had us going to the rule book to learn more about impetus, which is a judgment call:
As stated in Section 17, "impetus is the action of a player who carries the ball or provides the force (i.e., a pass, kick, snap, or fumble) that causes a ball in the field of play to touch or cross a goal line. If a loose ball touches or crosses a goal line, the impetus is attributed to the team whose player passed, kicked, snapped, or fumbled the ball, unless an opponent:
a) muffs a ball that is at rest, or nearly at rest; or
b) bats a ball that has been kicked or fumbled; or
c) bats a backward pass after it has struck the ground; or
d) illegally kicks any ball (12-4-2)
In this case, Morelli and McKenzie made the judgment call that "a" applied to this ruling. Because the Colts never had possession, and they muffed a ball that was judged by the officials to not have been "at rest or nearly at rest", the impetus still fell on the Patriots' side.
Had Griffin picked up the ball and had clear possession, and then the ball wound up in the end zone, the impetus would have been on the Colts' side and that's when a safety would have been the call.