It's the third quarter. The Miami Dolphins trail the Buffalo Bills 19 to 14, and have Buffalo facing a 3rd-and-4. Suddenly, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh blasts through the offensive line and gets to quarterback Tyrod Taylor, spinning the passer in circles. The play is over, Suh has a sack, and the Bills are pushed out of field goal range, punting the ball back to the Dolphins.
Except, that's not what happened.
Suh spun Taylor repeatedly, clearly holding the passer in his grasp. Apparently, it was not enough for the referees, who allowed Taylor to eventually wildly underhand the ball out of bounds. According to Rule 12 (Player Conduct), Section 2 (Personal Fouls), Article 9 (Roughing the Passer), Subparagraph H, "The Referee must blow the play dead as soon as the passer is clearly in the grasp and control of any tackler behind the line, and the passer's safety is in jeopardy."
Suh clearly had Taylor in his grasp and control, behind the line of scrimmage, and the passer's safety is in jeopardy because the only thing Suh can do differently on that play is to crush Taylor into the ground - at which point he would be called for roughing the passer and fined by the NFL.
According to Rule 12 (Player Conduct), Section 2 (Personal Fouls), Article 9 (Roughing the Passer), Subparagraph (b), "When tackling a passer who is in a defenseless posture (e.g., during or just after throwing a pass), a defensive player must not unnecessarily or violently throw him down and land on top of him with all or most of the defender's weight. Instead, the defensive player must strive to wrap up the passer with the defensive player's arms." Included in the NFL's definition of a "defenseless player," found in Rule 12 (Player Conduct), Section 2 (Personal Fouls), Article 7 (Players in a Defenseless Posture), besides all of the quarterback during or after the throw and on any change of possession protections, is Subparagraph 4, in which the league states "A runner already in the grasp of a tackler and whose forward progress has been stopped." Taylor met every part of that definition, so if Suh had "unnecessarily" thrown Taylor to the ground, he would have been flagged, but because Suh strove to "wrap up the passer" and stopped any forward progress from Taylor, the play was allowed to continue.
We have reached the point where there is no way for a player to actually sack the quarterback. If he tackles him, he is wrong. If he has him in his grasp and control behind the line of scrimmage, that is not enough to actually end the play. Apparently, Suh was not aggressive enough on the play, but it would have been a penalty if he were any more aggressive.
Suh was absolutely infuriated on the play, and rightfully so. He knows there was nothing else he could do without risking injury to Taylor. He did everything right on the play. He tried to protect Taylor from injury, while clearly making the play. He was angry, and he let the refs know it, yellowing "You've got to call that dead, or I'm going to slam the f*** out of him next time."
Suh did get a sack of Taylor in the game, in a play where he clearly went to slam Taylor, knowing if he just put him in the grasp, it was not enough. He put Taylor in the ground, and jumped up looking at the refs - probably expecting a flag - then helped Taylor back to his feet.
The non-sack played killed Miami. They had the stop, they were getting the ball back down just five. It was still a ball game. Except, there was no sack. There was a holding penalty, which backed up the Bills, but gave them another third down play. Taylor then connected with Sammy Watkins 44-yards down field for a touchdown and the flood gates opened on Miami.
There were plenty of things the Dolphins did poorly on Sunday, but the refs clearly messed up on this play. Would it have made a difference? Who knows. But, now, it appears Ndamukong Suh needs to be more aggressive when he sacks a quarterback.
You can see the whole play in the video at the top of this article.