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Stat-Keeping Error Did Not Boost Sack Record for Michael Strahan, Later Tied by T.J. Watt

A stat-keeping error did not boost the single-season NFL sack record of Michael Strahan in 2001, as has been suggested on social media.



Pittsburgh Steelers New York Giants DE Michael Strahan
FILE - In this Sept. 22, 2002, file photo, New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan celebrates after sacking Seattle Seahawks quarterback Trent Dilfer during an NFL football game at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Celebrations that used to be part of the game are under increased scrutiny and, though the league rulebook has some very specific examples of what constitutes a penalty, the gray area is as wide as ever. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun, File)

A thread from social media is suggesting that the 2001 NFL single-season sack record of New York Giants defensive lineman Michael Strahan, which was tied by Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt in 2021, may have been aided by a record-keeping error, but that is not the case.

User @JaguarGator9NFL on X, former known as Twitter, believed to have found an error in a game between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys from Week 8 of the 2001 season.

On a play, Cowboys quarterback Clint Stoerner snaps the ball from the New York Giants’ 44-yard line. He scrambles and runs upfield, getting tackled at the 43 1/2-yard line. The officials move the ball forward the half yard.

So because Stoerner gained yardage on the play, it should not be considered a sack, correct?

It’s easy to think so, but that’s not actually how it works in terms of NFL scorekeeping. While the ball is supposed to be spotted exactly where it is down, at any increment between yard markers, stat-keeping is done in whole numbers only.

Furthermore, the ball can’t be on the zero yard-line. If the ball is touching the goal line, it’s in the end zone. So a ball that is touching the 1-yard line, or in any of the space between the 1-yard line and the goal line, that is marked for stat-keeping purposes as the 1-yard line. The same thing plays out the rest of the way back the field for the offense, and in inverse for the defense.

So when the Cowboys snapped the ball, in contact with the 44-yard line, it was statistically the 44-yard line. When Stoerner was tackled a half-yard forward, statistically speaking, that is still the 44-yard-line, and it would be all the way up to millimeter shy of the 43-yard line. So even though forward yardage was gained, statistically speaking, it’s a no-gain and a sack, and the play was ruled correctly.

In addition to the in-person live scoring, the NFL also reviews the scoring calls made by in-stadium personnel with video, and that process is also externally audited by Elias Sports Bureau.

Steelers T.j. Watt

Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt tackle Baltimore Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley on Jan. 9, 2022. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

That doesn’t mean there can’t be controversy. Watt thought he had the record broken with a sack of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley in Week 17 of the 2021 season, but it was ruled that because Huntley did not cleanly receive the snap, and never established himself as a passer after recovering the football, that he was a runner, and it was simply a tackle for a loss.

Unlike the black-or-white yard markers in the Stoerner sack by Strahan, the Huntley decision was a judgement call. Watt and the Steelers appealed that ruling to Elias Sports Bureau and it was upheld. The appeals process must take place in the week immediately following the game, so even if Strahan’s sack had been awarded in error, nothing could be done about it now.

Michael Strahan and T.J. Watt remain the co-leaders with 22.5 sacks in a single season, though Watt played one fewer game in 2021 than Strahan did in 2001.

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