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Did Steelers Get Lucky on Packers Lateral Challenge? Matt LaFleur Thinks So



Steelers RB Jaylen Warren
Steelers RB Jaylen Warren against the Green Bay Packers, Nov. 12, 2023 - Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

PITTSBURGH — The Packers were miffed at the failure to reverse what they believed was a lateral and fumble on a swing pass from Kenny Pickett to Jaylen Warren. Warren dropped the ball, and the Packers believed that it was a fumble and picked it up. However, the whistle had already blown, meaning the play was dead.

Packers head coach Matt LaFleur did not fully understand why it was not overturned after the game. He saw it as a fumble but accepted that they did not overturn it. Given the game was 17-13 before the half, that would have been a significant change in the game’s momentum.

“I thought it was pretty clear to me,” LaFleur said. “But somebody else felt differently. So I get that’s the way it is. I guess I was wrong.”

The debate between Gene Steratore and Charles Davis raged on the broadcast. Steratore, the NFL Rules Analyst for CBS, agreed with the officials. Meanwhile, Davis vehemently disagreed that the call was correct, believing the Packers should have had the football instead.

Pittsburgh ended up +2 in the turnover margin, running that up to help them surge to their 23-19 win. If this call goes the other way, there is a good chance the Packers will win. The other element of this play that complicates things further for the Steelers is that the referees immediately blew their whistles, thinking it was an incomplete pass.

As a result, the Steelers did not continue playing on, but the Packers did, with Rashan Gary picking it up, but very late after the whistle. But the inadvertent whistle changes everything.

In the past, officials have overturned it for the other team that kept playing. For instance, the rulebook also cites ‘continuing action’, allowing that to be overturned. But the Packers would not have received the ball if it had been overturned, mainly because there was no ‘continued action’. The deadball stopped that from happening. Traditionally, this rule comes up more on strip sacks where the opposing team keeps playing through the whistle. But Gary did not recover until a lengthy time after the whistle.

“When the on-field ruling results in a dead ball (e.g., score, down by contact, incomplete pass, etc.), and following replay review, it is determined that possession was lost before the ball should have been ruled dead, possession may be awarded to a player who clearly recovers a loose ball in the immediate continuing action. A loose ball that touches out of bounds is deemed a clear recovery by the player who last possessed the ball,” the rulebook reads.

I’m no rules expert, and this onion has about five layers. But I think Gary recovering it significantly after the play is over is not immediate action. So, it’s unfortunate for the Packers. This is probably a fumble, but the whistle by the referees messed it all up. In the end, LaFleur probably should’ve won the challenge, and the Steelers could have lost half a yard. The issue is that the whistle was blown in the first place.  But that would have given LaFleur back a timeout.

That still means that call is significant, but the Steelers did their job the rest of the way to win their sixth of the season, even if it was yet again in ugly fashion.