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Rule Explanation: Was Russell Wilson’s lateral actually a forward pass?

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Philadelphia Eagles v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr /Getty Images

During the Seattle Seahawks win over the Philadelphia Eagles, there was a play in the fourth quarter that has generated a lot of controversy. It happened with ten minutes left in the game. Russell Wilson escaped through the pocket and lateraled the ball to running back Mike Davis. This allowed the Seahawks to convert the third down and score on a 21 yard touchdown throw to J.D. McKissic four plays later. Here’s the replay:

Was this a lateral or a forward pass?

According to the NFL Rulebook in Rule 3 - Section 22 - Article 4:

So, let’s verify based on the replay. Russell Wilson released the ball at the 47-yard line. Mike Davis caught the ball at the 48-yard line. This means there is a net gain of one yard. By definition this is a forward pass.

What about momentum?

By the replay, it clearly looks like Wilson threw the ball behind him. However, based on momentum this sent the ball forward and not backward. Based on my review of the rulebook, there is no rule for momentum. It’s clearly written to be a net change in yardage to make the interpretation by the referees easier.

Why didn’t the Philadelphia Eagles challenge this?

In my opinion, Doug Pederson should have challenged this play. I was actually shocked they didn’t. Laterals during plays are extremely difficult to execute precisely due to momentum.

What do you think? Should momentum be factored into the play?

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