On a third-and-2 for Miami at the Green Bay 43, linebacker Desmond Bishop broke up a pass intended for wide receiver Davone Bess near the sideline, and the Dolphins were forced to punt. Tramon Williams fair-caught Brandon Fields’ 35-yard punt at the Green Bay 8, and that was followed by a television timeout on the field.
During the break in the action, the officiating crew huddled and ruled that Green Bay was in an illegal formation on the punt, a 5-yard penalty that took the ball away from Green Bay and gave Miami a first down at the Packers’ 38. Linebacker Robert Francois, playing in his first career NFL game, was flagged for lining up over snapper John Denney with less than a yard between them.
“Robert was lined up a yard and a half from the snapper," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "The intent of the rule is to protect the snapper and why and how that was called at that critical point in the game, it obviously was a big play in the game for Miami.
“But the picture everybody saw on the scoreboard, the communication on the sideline, the officiating crew took plenty of time to discuss it between the series change on whether to throw the late flag. We tried to communicate to them that he was a yard off the ball, a yard and a half off the ball. But they felt they couldn’t, the communication that was given, they could not change that back. So, they felt that he was head up on the snapper, that’s the communication I was given.”
Following the game, referee Ed Hochuli explained the ruling to pool reporter Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
“That’s actually a new rule this year that on a punt, on any scrimmage kick, there cannot be a player on the defense within a yard of the line of scrimmage over the center,” Hochuli said. “He’s got to be outside the center’s shoulders or else he’s got to be back more than a yard off the line, and that’s judged by whether, does he have a foot or any part of his body up within, if you look from the sideline, up within the linemen that are down on the ground. And he did. So that was what the penalty was, a 5-yard penalty.”
Hochuli said the reason that it took so long to call the penalty was that members of the officiating crew are responsible for watching different things on a play, plus the TV timeout made the decision seem like it took longer than it actually did.
“It is a penalty that takes more than one person to actually see,” Hochuli said. “You’ve got one official who's looking and he sees that there’s a man directly over the center. After the play, then he has to check with the two guys that are on the line of scrimmage to see if that man was up within a yard of the line.
“And so it takes that communication between the officials. I had already gone to the commercial for after the punt, which we went out, we punched out. So that’s why everything was then done after we came back from commercial.”
Francois said after the game he was confident there was enough distance between him and Denney on the punt.
“You have to be yard off of the snapper, and I was more than a yard off of the snapper,” Francois said. “But it happens.
“I’m not going to say (if it was a bad call). I don’t know. It’s football, you know.”
The penalty made for quite the momentum swing for a defense that was on the field for nearly 38 minutes on Sunday afternoon. The unit went from thinking it had just come up with a second straight three-and-out, but instead was heading right back out onto the field.
“Initially, what the heck is going on?” said Bishop when asked what he was thinking when the penalty was called. “But we had to brush it off and try to go out and get a stop.
“After the (stop), we were off the field and we were good. To all of a sudden be back out there, it was kind of a change, but we had to man up and try to get a stop.”
The defense wasn’t able to come up with that key stop. After Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne converted a third-and-3 with a 10-yard completion to wide receiver Brian Hartline to the Green Bay 22, the Packers sent blitzers on the next play, but Henne lofted a swing pass to a wide-open Anthony Fasano, and the tight end took it down the sideline for the 22-yard touchdown. Even though the Packers would later answer with a score in the closing seconds to send the game into overtime, the penalty still factored heavily in the final outcome.
“I think they had a play call for (the Fasano touchdown catch),” Williams said. “No one was out there. I think we may have had one man out there, and he couldn’t get the job done because he had blockers on him. It was tough.”