If you follow the NFL's unofficial explanation, Wes Welker wasn't a defenseless receiver during the key fourth quarter interception that saw Welker receive a brutal, blindside hit by Seahawks safety Earl Thomas. But he wasn't NOT a defenseless receiver, either.
Via PFT -
Per a league source, it was the right interpretation of the current rules. Because Welker had not just made a catch, he did not fall within the "defenseless player" definition. Likewise, because the interception had not clearly been completed, Welker did not enjoy the protections against a blind-side block.
The league nevertheless will study this specific situation in the offseason for a potential tweak to the rules that would give a receiver in that circumstance protection against the hit he absorbed in that specific situation. For now, the hit landed in a gray area that allowed Thomas to avoid a flag and a fine. In the future, that could change.
To me, this doesn't make sense. The second explanation refutes and contradicts the first.
If, as the league source says, the "interception had not clearly been completed," then that is still a live pass, and possession has not yet been determined. That makes Welker still a player "attempting" to complete a pass, which falls under the qualifying characteristics of a "defenseless" player, per the league rules.
Indeed, the above GIF clearly displays these two necessary criteria for a defenseless player personal foul:
- Kam Chancellor had not yet established possession at the time of the Welker hit (only one foot on the ground).
- Welker is struck in the head by Thomas.
Furthermore, since the foul occurred before Chancellor completed the interception, the Broncos should have retained the ball following a 15-yard penalty.
That's my interpretation, anyway. Yours may differ.
We have emailed the Broncos and the NFL for comment. The Broncos declined; the NFL responded to our initial email but has not yet provided comment. We'll see what they say, but I think the above GIF shows the most clear picture yet that the Broncos deserved to keep possession.
Does that mean the Broncos deserved to win? Maybe. Probably not. In my opinion, the Seahawks played better. But it amplifies my excitement for a potential re-rematch in February.