Ask Jerry Markbreit
Former NFL referee Jerry Markbreit answers readers' questions every week throughout the football season.

September 20, 2005, 2:35 PM CDT

And guess who had a question? Yep me. Of the zillions of brilliant questions that are asked each week, mine was of the most brilliant as is evident by Mr. Markbreit's eagerness to answer it. Naturally they published it with these other less important questions and answers you see below.

You will probably never guess what play I was referring to when I asked this question but then again you may get lucky. LOL

Now without any more of my terrible humor to distract you. I give you Retired NFL Head Referee Jerry Markbreit.

Skip down to the Brilliant question wrapped up in the

"Quote tag"
I was among many people who saw a fumble in the Bears game that was ruled down by contact. I saw the same thing in another game later in the day. How do referees decide when to call a play over? -- Steve Branch, Roscoe, Ill.

An official declares a dead ball and the down ended when a runner is contacted by a defensive player and the runner touches the ground with any part of his body, except his hands or feet. The ball is dead immediately. This happens often at very high speed and it is a judgment call on the part of the officials.

A touchdown is scored when the football breaks the plane of the endzone. Can a touchdown be scored when the receiver catches the pass, has two feet down in the endzone, yet the ball does not break the plane because it's angled out of bounds away from the endzone? -- Craig Henkhaus, Atkinson, Ill.

To answer your questions, No. It is a touchdown when a runner advances from the field of play and the ball touches the opponent's goal line or goal-line plane. In your play, even though the receiver had both feet down in the end zone, the ball had yet to break the plane of the goal line. Consequently, there is no touchdown.

When do penalties switch from five-, 10- and 15-yard varieties to half the distance from the goal line? If the offense was already on their goal line, would penalties have no real effect on their distance to first down? --Hank Jones, Joliet

If a distance penalty, enforced from a specific spot between the goal lines would place the ball more than half the distance to the offender's goal line, the penalty is half the distance from that spot to the goal line. This general rule supercedes any other general or specific rule with regard to enforcement of penalties. An exception would be intentional grounding, which is penalized at the spot of the foul if that spot is more than 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

Fo example: If the ball was snapped from a team's own 15-yard line, and the quarterback illegally grounded the ball at his 2-yard line, the enforcement of the penalty would put the ball at the 2 instead of half the distance to the goal.

Why can an offensive player stiff-arm a defender in the facemask, but a defender cannot touch the facemask of a player on offense? Aren't the dangers the same? -- Russell Petersen, Chicago

Only a runner may ward off an opponent with his hands or arms, but no other offensive player may use them to obstruct an opponent. The runner may push an opponent in the face mask while warding him off, as long as he does not grasp the mask. This would result in a personal foul and a 15-yard penalty against the runner.

Defensive players are restricted from incidental grabbing or intentional grabbing of the face mask. The runner is given this extra latitude because it would not be possible to ward off a potential tackler if his face mask was a restricted area.

If a pass rusher takes a swipe at the football as the quarterback is in the act of throwing and completely misses the football but hits the quarterback in the face hard enough to where the head snaps backward, is this considered roughing the passer? - Dan, Roseville, Calif.

In the NFL, referees must be particularly alert to fouls in which defenders use the helmet or the face mask to hit the passer, or use hands, arms or other parts of the body to hit the passer in the head, neck or face area. Even though what you describe might truly be accidental, it is still a 15-yard penalty for roughing the passer.