At the high school, NCAA and NFL levels, zebras work from two documents, the rulebook and the officiating manual. The latter sets standards for how to determine fouls. Perhaps attempts to reposition feet is spelled out in the NFL officiating manual as a metric of defensive holding -- and Gronkowski was not trying hard to get back to the ball. Just as TMQ thinks football rules should be simplified, I think the rulebook and the officiating manual should be merged, so that when controversies like this happen, everyone is talking about the same thing.
Close reading of the rulebook caused many to realize that once the quarterback releases a pass, defensive holding is no longer called. (Gronkowski was held before the pass.) That made me wonder -- how come once the ball is away, defenders don't start grabbing anyone not in the path of the pass? Consider the hitch screen that's a football fad. Once the ball is released by the quarterback, defenders could grab offensive linemen and wide receivers blocking for the hitch, and throw them to the ground. That seems legal under the wording of the rule. It doesn't happen because officials might throw flags anyway. There's the exact wording of the rules, and there's the way the officials call games. Often, they are different.
Bears throwing incomplete on third-and-22 at St. Louis, the Rams were called for illegal contact -- five yards walked off, first down Chicago. The call itself was correct, but TMQ dislikes this rule. Illegal contact should be five yards without an automatic first down.
Patriots trailing 24-14, third-and-goal on the Denver 6, Gronkowski ran into the end zone, slammed into his defender, then turned around to catch a touchdown pass. Offensive pass interference should have been called. This was a four-point swing in a game New England won by three points. Guess that makes Gronkowski, and the Patriots, even for the Carolina ending. Given the similar game situation, one wonders: Is this what Gronkowski was trying to do on the final snap at Carolina? Maybe he planned to slam into Kuechly, but Kuechly grabbed him first.
Thumbs Up for NFL Films: Long viewed as well-packaged but predictable, NFL Films is getting some game. Its latest, a demi-documentary on the development of the forward pass, is well worth watching. There's fun old footage, sharp analysis and cultural references to George Carlin and conspiracy theorizing. NFL Films' four-hour true documentary, " Star Spangled Sundays," is high-quality work with credibility, since critics of football are interviewed as well as boosters.
Over to You, Paul Lukas: This week's Oregon versus Oregon State collision is less important than expected a month ago. TMQ hopes it will establish a festive holiday mood if Oregon wears its radioactive green uniforms while Oregon State sports its visible-from-orbit all-reds.
Obscure College Score: Tabor 14, Benedictine of Kansas 13 (NAIA playoffs). Located in Hillsboro, Kan., Tabor College offers a FAQs page on which the third question is, "What does liberal arts mean?" If you don't know what liberal arts means, maybe you're not ready for college.
Next Week: Peyton Manning vows to spend offseason training at South Pole.
In addition to writing Tuesday Morning Quarterback for ESPN, Gregg Easterbrook is the author of " The King of Sports" and eight other books, and is a contributing editor of The Atlantic. His website is here and you can follow him on Twitter here. Every Tuesday during the football season, at 3 p.m. Eastern, he will answer questions on Twitter about that day's column.