“Palpably unfair” might be one way to describe the last play of the Baltimore Ravens’ game against the Cincinnati Bengals. “Successful” might be another. “Wacky?” Definitely. It’s not every day that a weird dance party breaks out on the field.
That’s how it looked when the Ravens ran out the last 11 seconds on fourth down by deliberately holding all nine Bengals players who rushed their punter in the end zone. That gave Sam Koch time to run around and, ultimately, surrender to a safety in Baltimore’s 19-14 victory.
So much for the notion that Jim Harbaugh was the wild brother. It was legal-ish, and John Harbaugh, who has decried the New England Patriots’ use of the rulebook, did a little studying of his own. To end Sunday’s game, he and his team tap danced around Rule 12, Section 3, Article 2. That rule prohibits teams from committing “successive or repeated fouls to prevent a score.” ESPN’s Kevin Seifert explains that if a team does it again after receiving the required warning, the act is to be declared “palpably unfair.” Referees are told to award the yardage a player would have reasonably gained, even a touchdown. The clock is reset and officials have the option of ejecting a player or players.
And, of course, Commissioner Roger Goodell has the power to overturn any result if a palpably unfair act isn’t properly handled by the game’s referee.
But the Ravens didn’t “commit successive or repeated” penalties, and not only did they do so to prevent a Bengals’ score, they gave them two points with the safety. And since the game can indeed end on an offensive penalty, that was the end of it.
The Ravens aren’t the first to try this sort of thing this month. On Nov. 6, four San Francisco 49ers defensive backs intentionally held New Orleans Saints receivers with eight seconds left before halftime, taking a 5-yard penalty and forcing the Saints to settle for a field goal rather than a touchdown.
This also isn’t the first time the Ravens have tried this. They did it in Super Bowl XLVII, when Koch took the snap with 12 seconds left against the 49ers and ran for eight seconds before stepping out of bounds to concede the two points and leave the Niners with little time. Baltimore won, 34-31.