This past Sunday against the New York Giants, I think Cleveland Browns fans everywhere were shaking their heads when they saw QB Brandon Weeden try to throw two passes on the same play. Unless there is a fan who is really out of touch with football, I'm sure everyone instantly said, "yep, that isn't going to count."
Weeden and head coach Pat Shurmur aren't defending the play, and even acknowledged that they practice in those situations to just knock the ball down. It was a spurt of the moment goof-up. With that said, if I understand the NFL rules correctly, it actually was not a complete loss that Weeden attempted to throw a second forward pass. First, let's take a look at the play again:
Facing a 3rd-and-goal from the 5 yard line, Weeden's first pass was batted away by DE Justin Tuck. Weeden caught the deflection behind the line of scrimmage, and then fired a second forward pass to TE Jordan Cameron for a touchdown. According to the NFL rulebook, the penalty is as follows:
For a second forward pass from behind the line, or for a forward pass that was thrown after the ball returned behind the line: Loss of five yards.
The Giants accepted the penalty, making it a 3rd-and-goal from the 10 yard line. Had Weeden never tried to catch his own deflection, Cleveland would have then faced a 4th-and-goal from the 5 yard line. Then, it is a matter of opinion as to what you prefer as an offense: would you rather have two shots starting at the 10, or one shot starting at the 5?
The Giants couldn't decline the penalty in this case. If they would have, then Cameron's touchdown would've counted. Let's say that Weeden's second pass sailed out of the back of the end zone. The Giants would then have had the option of forcing the Browns into a fourth-down play. Completing the pass for a touchdown, as Weeden did, prevented that decision from being made. Here is an example from the NFL rulebook which points out this type of scenario:
Second-and-10 on A40. A forward pass is batted back by a defensive player. The ball goes back in the air to the quarterback behind his line. He throws it again to his end who catches it on the B40 and goes for a score.
Ruling: No score. Second-and-15 on A35.
Some may argue that having two cracks from the 10 yard line is more beneficial for scoring since it gives you a little more room to work with, especially when you have a strong-armed quarterback like Weeden. Weeden tried to go for the end zone on third down, but his pass intended for TE Benjamin Watson was intercepted by LB Chase Blackburn.
So, for a moment, forget the fact that Weeden shouldn't have risked catching his own pass and throwing it again. In hindsight, which would you rather have when your team is behind: two plays starting from the 10, or one play starting at the 5?
Side note: please correct me if you feel my interpretation of the rulebook is wrong.