De-Bunkley-ing the Myth about Graham Harrell and ‘The Fumble’


It’ s good to see that most of the recent coverage of the Green Bay Packers’ competition for the backup quarterback spot has left out any mention of “the fumble.”

Green Bay Packers quarterback Graham Harrell during the game against a Kansas City Chiefs at Lambeau Field. The Packers defeated the Chiefs 24-3. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph

You know which one.

From my perspective, the major media outlets originally fumbled the reporting of this key play in the Packers-Saints game in 2012. Most merely referenced Graham Harrell tripping, stumbling, or fumbling. Take a look at how major media characterized the action:

Associated Press: Harrell tripped and fumbled as he tried to hand it off, allowing the Saints to get the ball. Brees then found Joseph Morgan wide open behind the defense for an 80-yard touchdown and a 24-21 lead.

USA Today: Enter Graham Harrell, the second-year player from Texas Tech who was standing under center for the first time in an NFL game. Snapping the ball at the 2-yard line, Harrell tripped on the foot of center Jeff Saturday and fumbled a planned handoff to Cedric Benson. The Saints recovered the ball and four plays later took a 24-21 lead on an 80-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees to Joseph Morgan.

ESPN: Harrell, the backup who had a roller coaster preseason in his first summer as the Packers’ No. 2, entered the game for a first-and-goal at the two-yard line. Harrell tripped over center Jeff Saturday’s feet on his first snap and could not cleanly hand the ball off to tailback Cedric Benson. Harrell was charged with a fumble, negating a chance to build on a 21-17 lead, and the Saints recovered.

Fox Sports: In the first-ever regular-season snap in Harrell’s NFL career, the 27-year-old former Canadian Football League quarterback stumbled backward after tripping on the foot of veteran center Jeff Saturday. As he was falling, Harrell attempted to hand the ball off to running back Cedric Benson, but it bounced away and was recovered by New Orleans.

If you have a moment, review the play.

Saint defensive tackle Broderick Bunkley, number 77, bulldozed Packers center Jeff Saturday, number 63, two yards into the backfield. Saturday’s left foot came into contact with both of Harrell’s feet as Harrell had his back to Saturday.

To simply infer that Harrell stumbled and lost the ball misses the mark. None of the above media outlets referenced the tremendous defensive effort of Bunkley. If I were a statistician, I would consider crediting Bunkley with a forced fumble.

"“A forced fumble occurs when the ball carrier loses the football due to the force of a defensive player. This can be a result of being hit or of having the ball stripped by a defender.”"

Green Bay Packers quarterback Graham Harrell was originally scorned for his fumble against the New Orleans Saints last year. But upon further review … Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports photograph

My rationale is that Bunkley’s force caused a chain reaction that led to the fumble. If Bunkley would have been credited with a forced fumble, the reporting of the play may have been much different and Harrell may not have been labeled as the “almost goat.” Instead the focus of the play may have been on Bunkley being the “almost hero” for the Saints.

Others speculate Harrell could have aborted the handoff, tucked it in, and taken a loss. If you notice the tape, his arm is outstretched after his second foot comes in contact with Saturday’s foot.  His balance was already lost. He could just have likely fumbled it while trying to tuck it in.

It also would have been nice to know if anything tipped the Saints off that it was a run play to the Packers’ left side. For example, did it appear Packers fullback John Kuhn’s stance prior to the snap indicated he was preparing to push off on his right foot and move to his left? How did the Saints anticipate the snap count so well?

Fortunately, the Packers won this game, and after some reflection, the media are not so hard on Harrell now, many preferring to reference his “up-and-down” preseason performance in 2012 as his big question mark. But even that is incorrect. Harrell had a down-and-up preseason, finishing the exhibition season with a near perfect game against Kansas City. In my book, his trend line is still up until we see more of his work.

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