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End-zone angle shows Matt Rhule was right about missed intentional grounding call

Chris Simms and Ahmed Fareed run through some of the most intriguing and dramatic storylines from the first week of NFL action with a round of Give Me the Headlines.

A controversy emerged on Sunday regarding whether Browns quarterback Jacoby Brissett properly executed a clock-killing spike with 13 seconds to play, setting up the eventual game-winning 58-yard field goal.

Panthers coach Matt Rhule argued that Brissett committed intentional grounding by not immediately spiking the ball.

“I started screaming, ‘Intentional grounding, 10-second runoff, game’s about to be over,’” Rhule said after the game. “They obviously called it and then changed it, and it was told to me that — I’m going to get in trouble here, but — it was told to me he just pump-faked it,” Rhule said after the game.

Beyond the 10-second runoff, the 58-yard try would have become a 68-yard proposition. Otherwise known as “just beyond the range of Brandon McManus.”

Referee Brad Rogers addressed the call after the game with a pool reporter. Said Rogers, “After discussion, we determined that stepping back does not disqualify the quarterback from spiking the ball and we allowed him to do that by rule.”

Brissett did indeed step back. It was obvious from the TV angle. Here’s what wasn’t obvious. From the end-zone angle (which I have seen with my own lying eyes), Brissett executes a quick but definite pump toward the ground after getting the snap and before stepping back.

During the game, Rogers admitted that there was a fake spike, in explaining that the flag that had been thrown would be picked up.

We quoted the rules here. They’re worth repeating. First, “a player under center is permitted to stop the game clock legally to save time if, immediately upon receiving the snap, he begins a continuous throwing motion and throws the ball directly into the ground.” Second, “a passer, after delaying his passing action for strategic purposes, is prohibited from throwing the ball to the ground in front of him, even though he is under no pressure from defensive rusher(s).”

By executing a quick fake spike after getting the ball (possibly to evaluate whether the defense was susceptible to a Dan Marino move), Brissett squandered the ability to spike the ball thereafter, without the outcome being intentional grounding. He did not “immediately” begin “a continuous throwing motion” that resulted in the ball being thrown “directly into the ground.” Also, he apparently “delay[ed] his passing action for strategic purposes.” The actual spike, then, should have been a penalty.

Not that any of it matters at this point. It’s not as if the game can be protested. At best, someone from the league offie will privately tell Rhule he was right. Maybe that will help reduce the heat a bit with owner David Tepper. Maybe it will make it less likely that Rhule will be fined for what he said after the game.

The bigger issue is credibility. Mistakes are made. Either they are admitted, or they’re concealed. Here, Rogers gave bad information to the media about whether the decision not to penalize Brissett was the right one.

And, obviously, it changed the outcome of the game. Unless Browns kicker Cade York would have been able to make a field goal from 68 yards.

Maybe he could have. The point is that, if the rules had been properly applied, he would have had to try.