NFL offers context in face mask ruling

I returned to NFC North headquarters Monday to find the brawl still taking place over Green Bay’s final play of the season.

As we visually noted Sunday, Arizona cornerback Michael Adams caught his right index finger on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ facemask. Had a penalty been called, Karlos Dansby's game-winning touchdown would have been nullified.

A picture is worth a thousand words, but it also captures a split-second in time. The potential for penalty is far less obvious when watching the play in live speed.

The NFL issued a rules explanation Monday in response to questions about the play. I got my hands on it this afternoon, and its general tone suggests that no illegal act occurred because Adams -- in the judgment of officials -- did not twist, turn or pull Rodgers’ face mask. An inadvertent grab is legal in part because of a 2008 rule revision.

Before 2008? The play probably would have been a penalty. For those of you who want to read the entire explanation, I’ve included it at the bottom of this post.

You know how I feel about officiating. I think calls even out over time. But they still can make a huge impact in individual games, and that’s why they’re fair game for discussion in setting like these. We spent at least one post every week hashing through some of the more interesting ones during the regular season.

If I were a Packers fan, I would probably be more upset about the non-call of an apparent helmet-to-helmet hit on Rodgers two plays before it. Rodgers, for his part, told reporters in Green Bay on Monday that he spent most of his time thinking about his overthrow of receiver Greg Jennings on the first play of overtime.

“There's always going to be one or two plays in the game where you wonder should there be a call, shouldn't there be a call, but those are out of my control,” Rodgers said, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “The things I worry about are the things I can control. I made some mistakes in the game. Those are the ones I'm thinking about. Not a potential face mask on that.

“The one play I was thinking about laying in bed was the first play of overtime. Unfortunately, just missed Greg on that one that could have ended the game. But [the Cardinals] made a play in overtime, you have to give them credit for that.”

OK then. Here is the full explanation from the NFL:

A "facemask" penalty is a judgment call that is not reviewable by replay.

Rule 12, Section 2, Article 5 of the NFL Rule Book (page 81) states that "no player shall twist, turn, or pull the facemask of an opponent in any direction."

The Rule Book describes the penalty as follows:

"Penalty: For twisting, turning or pulling the mask: loss of 15 yards. A personal foul. The player may be disqualified if the action is judged by the official(s) to be of a flagrant nature."

The Rule Book describes an approved ruling as it relates to facemask penalties (page 81).

"A.R. 12.12 - Third-and-10 on A30. Runner A1 runs to the A33, where he is tackled by B1, who incidentally grasps A1's facemask on the tackle, but it is not a twist, turn or pull. Ruling: A's ball, fourth-and-seven, on A33. No foul."

Prior to the 2008 season, a rule change was approved that eliminated the foul for the incidental grasp of the facemask.

The language of the rule as it relates to a facemask penalty through the 2007 season:

"Penalty: Incidental grasping of the mask -- five yards. Not a personal foul (if by the defense there is no automatic first down). Twisting, turning, or pulling the mask -- 15 yards. A personal foul. The player may be disqualified if the action is judged by the official(s) to be of a flagrant nature."