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Patriots-Buccaneers: So what exactly is intentional grounding?

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I have no idea what the officials were looking at.

New England Patriots v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Early in the fourth quarter, the New England Patriots held at 16-7 lead over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. For most of the game, the Patriots had stifled the Buccaneers passing attack, limiting Jameis Winston to 109 passing yards through three quarters.

The Patriots pinned the Buccaneers near the Tampa goal line after an excellent 30-yard punt by Ryan Allen- New England continues to punt inside their opponents 40-yard line- and with their backs against the line, Winston appeared to intentionally ground the football after Patriots linebacker Elandon Roberts had a free lane for a sack.

But, wait a second, there was no intentional grounding called. Why? The official pointed to a Buccaneers player and said that he was the target in the vicinity so it shouldn’t count at intentional grounding.

Here’s the freeze frame:

Note that the cheerleader is ducking because the football almost hits her. Note that the Buccaneers player is easily 10 yards away from depth of the ball landing out of bounds and that if we use the Pythagorean theorem, we can estimate that the receiver was a billion yards away from the football.

The game book says the target was Mike Evans. The official believes it was Cameron Brate. That alone should bring this non-call into question.

The intentional grounding rule officially states, “It is a foul for intentional grounding if a passer, facing an imminent loss of yardage because of pressure from the defense, throws a forward pass without a realistic chance of completion. A realistic chance of completion is defined as a pass that lands in the direction and the vicinity of an originally eligible receiver.”

If this wasn’t intentional grounding, I don’t know what would ever qualify. Instead of giving the Patriots 2 points and the football, Winston ended up throwing the ball 85 yards through the air in order for Nick Folk to shank another field goal attempt. That drive never should’ve happened.

All I’m asking for is some consistency on how this penalty is called and applied. I looked through other plays that involved intentional grounding and a safety and there aren’t too many to sort through dating back through 2011. Some are clear- the quarterback never gets the ball past the line of scrimmage- but there are three that deserve attention from 2014.

2014 Week 17

1ST & GOAL AT DET 10 (2:39) M.Stafford pass incomplete right. PENALTY on DET-M.Stafford, Intentional Grounding, 10 yards, enforced in End Zone, SAFETY.

Matthew Stafford is dinged for an intentional grounding on this play. There is a receiver much closer to the football than the Buccaneers play.

2014 Week 11

3RD & GOAL AT BUF 6 (1:11) (Shotgun) K.Orton pass incomplete short left [O.Vernon]. PENALTY on BUF-K.Orton, Intentional Grounding, 6 yards, enforced in End Zone, SAFETY.

Earlier in 2014, Kyle Orton is called for intentional grounding, despite having a receiver closer in the vicinity than what Winston had on Thursday night.

2014 Week 3

1ST & GOAL AT BUF 9 (3:28) (Shotgun) E.Manuel pass incomplete short right [C.Liuget]. PENALTY on BUF-E.Manuel, Intentional Grounding, 0 yards, enforced in End Zone, SAFETY.

Buffalo is hilarious and they had two separate quarterbacks called for intentional grounding safeties in 2014. But if this one counts as intentional grounding, surely Winston grounded the ball, too?

If these plays lacked receivers in the vicinity of the pass, then Brate or Evans were definitely not in the vicinity. Step up your game, officials.