It's a second-and-seven play on the Patriots 19-yard line. Peyton Manning sets up behind center, checks the coverage and calls for the snap. He takes a three step drop and fires the football into the end zone, aimed for wideout Reggie Wayne, who's given Ellis Hobbs the slip and is streaking down the sideline for a touchdown catch.
But Hobbs stays with the Colts No. 2 receiver. He closes on Wayne, chopping his feet to avoid bumping into the wideout, a sure penalty since his back is to the passer. Wayne's eyes widen, indicating the ball is on its way. Free from contact, Hobbs jumps up but doesn't turn to look for the football, which strikes Hobbs' left biceps from behind and falls to the turf dead.
Penalty flags fly, and referee Bill Carollo turns on his mic to let everyone know that the penalty's on the "Defense. Automatic first down. The ball will be placed at the 1-yard line." Manning hits former Patriot Dan Klecko for a 1-yard touchdown pass. A two-point conversion follows, tying it 21-21.
"Face-guarding," said CBS analyst and former Giants quarterbackPhil Simms during the replay. "Ellis Hobbs jumps up, just tries to get in the way of Reggie Wayne. Does not see the football. Does not play it. Easy call."
Not so, according to replay official Dean Blandino, who joinedBob Boylston in the booth that day.
In a recent posting by Vic Ketchman, Jaguars.com senior editor, Ketchman responded to a fan's posting about the play, writing, "You are absolutely correct. Face-guarding was discontinued several years ago and I completely missed it."
Apparently, Ketchman had already responded to questions about the play, attributing the call to face-guarding just like Simms and countless fans across the nation who tuned in to watch the most viewed AFC Championship game in over 20 years. There is no NFL rule against face-guarding.
"I talked to Dean Blandino in the league office and he confirmed what you're saying," wrote Ketchman. "Ellis Hobbs should not have been flagged for pass-interference. He didn't make contact with the receiver and in no way did Hobbs impede Reggie Wayne's ability to catch the pass. Blandino confirmed that the incorrect call was made. … Referee Bill Carollo made no reference to face-guarding in his explanation, but CBS analyst Phil Simms did. Apparently, he, too, doesn't know the rule no longer exists. The next time you hear a TV analyst say, 'he wasn't playing the ball,' think of the Hobbs play, then turn down the sound."