Did Refs Miss a Penalty During Sam Hubbard's 98-Yard Touchdown for the Cincinnati Bengals?

Some are questioning Markus Bailey's contact with Mark Andrews now.

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click to enlarge Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard (94) sprints for a touchdown as linebacker Markus Bailey (51) prevents Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews (89) from tackling him on Jan. 15, 2023. - Photo: NFL on NBC, YouTube
Photo: NFL on NBC, YouTube
Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard (94) sprints for a touchdown as linebacker Markus Bailey (51) prevents Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews (89) from tackling him on Jan. 15, 2023.

Things are never easy, are they?

Some football fans and insiders are questioning the legitimacy of defensive end Sam Hubbard's amazing 98-yard fumble-return touchdown during the Cincinnati Bengals' win over the Baltimore Ravens on Jan. 15. The touchdown in the fourth quarter broke a tie, gave the Bengals the permanent lead and secured Cincinnati's spot in the upcoming AFC divisional round with the Buffalo Bills.

During the AFC Wild Card game, Bengals linebackers Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson knocked the ball loose from Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley, with Hubbard scooping it up and making a beeline for the Bengals' end zone. Ravens tight end Mark Andrews sped forward, nearly catching up to the quick Hubbard, but Cincinnati linebacker Markus Bailey knocked him to the left, gingerly hopping over Andrews' prone body between the Bengals' 30- and 20-yard-lines as Hubbard continued powering up the field. Hubbard scored, and the 66,399 fans in Paycor Stadium went into a disbelieving frenzy.

Hubbard had traveled more than 123 yards to make the score happen.

But some are questioning Bailey's contact with Andrews now, saying that officials missed a block in the back. According to the NFL's rulebook, "Blocking is the act of obstructing or impeding an opponent by contacting him with a part of the blocker’s body. A Block in the Back is a block that is delivered from behind an opponent above his waist." That type of contact normally would get a penalty.
Game footage shows Bailey swerving in front of Andrews before Andrews began to pass him. That's when Bailey made contact, reaching out with his left hand and pressing against what appears to be the center or center-right of Andrews' back.

"I feel for Mark Andrews cause that was a heck of an effort (and a block in the back)," tweeted Ian Hest, who covers Inter Miami CF, an MLS team.

"Favorite part of this is #51 doing a semi-illegal block on Mark Andrews, giving the 'I didn't do it' hands up and then hop-skipping right over him," said CNBC writer Jesse Pound.

But did Bailey actually make a block to the back that should have drawn a penalty, potentially altering the game's outcome? From the NFL rules:
It is not a block in the back:
  • if a player is making a personal attempt to recover a loose ball;
  • if the opponent turns away from the blocker when contact is imminent;
  • if both of the blocker’s hands are on the opponent’s side. (If either hand is on the back, it is a foul.)
As shown in game footage, Bailey's hand clearly met Andrews' back, but it also touched the Ravens' player's side. That made things murky, NFL rules analyst Dean Blandino said in a video on Twitter.

"A little bit of a push in the back. It was really close," Blandino said. "A lot of people thought it should have been a flag. Look, this is a tough one. It's one of those in-between [calls], and when it's in-between, you don't want the official to make that call. You want it to be clear."

"There was some contact on the side, there was some contact on the back, and if we have to sit there and debate whether it was or wasn't a foul, then it's not clear enough to make that call in that situation. It's close, but I felt like it was a good no-call on that play," Blandino concluded.

Watch Hubbard's remarkable run and the Bailey/Andrews contact below.

Cincinnati will head to the AFC divisional playoffs on Jan. 22 to battle the Buffalo Bills again – hopefully to completion this time. The Bengals and Bills last met in Cincy on Jan. 2, when the Bengals were up 7-3 in the first quarter when Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed with a cardiac arrest. Hamlin was given CPR for nine minutes before being taken away in an ambulance and intubated at University of Cincinnati Medical Center. The NFL first suspended and then postponed that game after a meeting among officials and both teams' coaches. Hamlin continued recovering at UC Med Center and recently returned to Buffalo.

Kickoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. Jan. 22. The game will be broadcast on CBS and Paramount+.

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