Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson set a new franchise record by gaining 216 yards on seven catches. Quarterback Josh Freeman threw for a career-high 420 yards and notched consecutive 300-plus yard passing games for the first time in his career.
But a powerful New Orleans Saints offense and a penalty on the final play of the game that negated an apparent game-tying touchdown kept Tampa Bay from overtime and a chance to win the game.
With 1:50 left in the game and down by a touchdown, Freeman and the Buccaneers took over on the New Orleans 41-yard line. Nine plays later Tampa Bay was on the Saints 9-yard line with 0:05 left and needed a touchdown to play on.
Freeman was flushed left out of the pocket and found Mike Williams in the back of the end zone. But a flag was thrown—and incontrovertible film evidence later showed true—that Williams was pushed out of bounds and came back in to catch the touchdown pass.
That’s a no-no, according to the NFL Rule Book.
Rule 8, Section 1, Article 8 talks about illegal touching of a forward pass:
Article 8 Illegal Touching of a Forward Pass. It is a foul for illegal touching if a forward pass (legal or illegal), thrown from behind the line of scrimmage:
(a) is first touched intentionally or is caught by an ineligible offensive player; or
(b) first touches or is caught by an eligible receiver who has gone out of bounds, either of his own volition or by being legally forced out of bounds, and has re-established himself inbounds.
Penalty: Loss of five yards.
Note 1: If a forward pass (legal or illegal) is caught by an ineligible offensive player, the ball remains alive.
Note 2: The bat of a pass in flight by any player does not end a pass, nor does it change the impetus if the bat sends it in touch.
Note 3: If a player touches the ball after having been out of bounds, but prior to re-establishing himself inbounds with both feet or any part of his body other than his hands, the pass is incomplete, and there is no penalty for illegal touching.
Rule 12, Section 1, Article 6 talks about incidental contact beyond the five-yard zone:
INCIDENTAL CONTACT BEYOND FIVE-YARD ZONE
Beyond the five-yard zone, incidental contact may exist between receiver and defender as long as it does not materially affect or significantly impede the receiver, creating a distinct advantage.
Exception 2: See Rule 8, Section 4, Article 5 for legal and illegal cut blocks.
Note 1: Once the quarterback or receiver of the snap hands off, is tackled, throws a forward or backward pass, loses possession of the ball by a fumble or a muff that touches the ground, or if the quarterback leaves the pocket area (see 3-24), the restrictions on the defensive team relative to offensive receivers (illegal contact, illegal cut block) will end.
Note 2: Whenever a team presents an apparent punting formation, defensive action that would normally constitute illegal contact (chuck beyond five yards) will no longer be considered a foul.
As you see the rule book was interpreted correctly on the field, and while the loss drops the Buccaneers to 2-4, there's much to be thrilled about on offense in the loss.
Not only were Freeman’s 420 yards passing a career high, it was the third-highest single-game total in franchise history, behind 486 yards from Doug Williams in 1980 and 469 yards passing from Vinny Testaverde in 1988.
Over the last three games, Freeman has thrown for 1,047 yards and seven touchdowns with just two interceptions.
Now that Freeman has 11 touchdown passes and just six interceptions, it’s beginning to look like he’s on the right track in regard to minimizing turnovers. An almost 2-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio feels much better than last year’s 22 interceptions to only 16 touchdown passes.
Jackson notched his third 100-yard-or-better receiving game of the season and rookie running back Doug Martin went over 100 all-purpose yards for the second straight week.
It didn’t show on the scoreboard Sunday, but Tampa Bay’s offense is showing signs of life.