Ground didn't cause fumble in Tebow play

Mike Pereira breaks down Week 13's controversial call
Mike Pereira breaks down Week 13's controversial call
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Mike Pereira

Mike Pereira was the NFL's Vice President of Officiating from 2004-09, having spent the five seasons previous to that as the league's Director of Officiating. He also served as an NFL game official when he acted as a side judge for two seasons (1997-98). Follow him on Twitter.


Tim Tebow can walk on … just about anything he wants to at this point.

The NFL’s top lightning rod this season struck again with another comeback win Sunday, this time a 35-32 victory over Minnesota to give the Broncos their fifth straight win — and Tebow’s sixth win in seven starts.

Probably the only thing that didn’t go Tebow’s way came near halftime.

Here was the situation:

Denver had the ball, second down and 2 at the Denver 28-yard line with 47 seconds left in the second quarter. Minnesota led 12-7.

Tebow was being chased out of the pocket by the VikingsJared Allen. Allen grabbed Tebow’s legs, and as Tebow was going to the ground, he fumbled, and the ball was recovered by Allen. The replay official initiated a challenge on the fumble ruling, and the play was upheld.

It was a very tight play, but Tebow likely would have needed divine intervention for referee Terry McAulay to reverse this call.

When I first saw the play, I went against coach Brian Billick, who was on the broadcast for FOX, and eventually against McAulay. However, I will admit that, after looking at the play again, that they were right — and I was wrong.

The ball does appear to be coming loose, just as Tebow’ knee touches down, and certainly it was too close to reverse the call that was made on the field.

I got a lot of questions from my Twitter followers on this play. They all wanted to know how the ground could cause a fumble. The ground didn’t cause the fumble. That only applies when the runner hits the ground, causing the ball to come loose. On this play, the ball was coming loose before the knee hit the ground so, therefore, the ground did not cause the fumble.

Disregard the ball touching the ground, because that’s no different than a hand or a foot touching the ground. That does not put a runner down.

Let’s take a look at some of the other interesting calls from Sunday:

Green Bay at NY Giants

THE SITUATION: Green Bay had the ball, third down and 9 at the Giants’ 20-yard line with 9:50 left in the third quarter. Green Bay led 21-17.

THE PLAY: Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers completed a 20-yard pass to Greg Jennings for a touchdown. The replay assistant initiated a review, challenging the completion ruling, and the play was upheld.

MY TAKE: This one was all about control. A word I never use when determining control is, move. The ball always moves. In this case, Jennings did not have possession, but then did appear to have control with his left hand and then got two feet down before the defender stripped out the ball. It was one of those plays where you could have made a case either way. Since it was ruled a catch and a touchdown, referee Jeff Triplette announced that the ruling on the field stood as called. That means, there would not have been enough evidence to overturn the call, no matter which way it was ruled.

Atlanta at Houston


With the playoffs fast approaching, every yard counts. Take a peek at the best images of Week 13.

THE SITUATION: Houston had the ball, third down and 8 at the Atlanta 15-yard line with 8:24 left in the first quarter. There was no score.

THE PLAY: Houston quarterback T.J. Yates was attempting to pass, was hit by Vance Walker and the ball came loose. It was ruled a fumble on the field, and Atlanta’s James Sanders picked it up and ran it 85 yards for a touchdown. There were two penalties on the play: illegal substitutions on both the Falcons and the Texans. Houston challenged the fumble ruling, and the play was upheld, but the penalty nullified the touchdown and the Falcons were awarded the ball, first and 10 at the Atlanta 35-yard line.

MY TAKE: Talk about a complicated play … the ruling on the field was a fumble, and let’s talk about that first. I feel this was an incomplete pass. The shot from the sideline showed, at least in my mind, that Yates had control of the ball in his hand and the hand was moving forward before the ball came loose. Nevertheless, in replay, they stayed with the ruling of a fumble. Sanders then picked up the ball and returned it for a touchdown. But during the return, players and coaches from both teams came onto the field, and both teams were called for illegal substitution. Since both fouls occurred after the fumble recovery by Sanders, the penalties offset by rule, so the touchdown was nullified and the ball was placed at the recovering team’s spot of the foul, which was the Atlanta 35-yard line. A lot can happen on a single play, and this is a perfect example.

Tennessee at Buffalo

THE SITUATION: Buffalo had the ball, first down and 10 at the Tennessee 35-yard line with 7:17 left in the first quarter. Tennessee led 3-0.

THE PLAY: Buffalo running back C.J. Spiller carried the ball for 30 yards when Tennessee’s Michael Griffin knocked the ball out of his hands. The ball traveled into the end zone and Spiller tried to make a recovery, but it was ruled a touchback. Buffalo challenged the play and the play was reversed and the Bills were awarded a touchdown.

MY TAKE: A good challenge by Buffalo. And a good reversal by referee Alberto Riveron. Lots of my Twitter followers and the game announcers felt this should not have been reversed, but it clearly should have been. When you look at the isolated replay, you can see that Spiller’s right knee was down and he had control of the football on the way to the ground. Recovery of a loose ball is the same as completing the process of making a catch. Spiller maintained control of the ball, after hitting the ground, therefore, making this a touchdown.

Green Bay at New York Giants

THE SITUATION: The Giants had the ball, third down and 6 at the Green Bay 20-yard line with 2:05 left in the first quarter. The score was tied 7-7.

THE PLAY: Giants quarterback Eli Manning attempted a 20-yard pass to Jake Ballard, who made a great catch, but was ruled out of bounds. The Giants challenged the pass completion ruling, and the play was upheld.

MY TAKE: I love when the ruling on the field stands, even though I originally thought Ballard might have gotten one knee down in bounds, which is the same as getting two feet down. Sometimes you fall victim to a frozen piece of video, which really doesn’t paint the whole picture. I get mad at myself when I look at a still frame and try to draw a conclusion based on that alone. I have said it so many times before — I’m OK when a referee lets the ruling on the field stand. At least the referee gets a second look at the play. Referee Jeff Triplette was right for staying with this call. There was just not indisputable visual evidence to overturn the ruling on the field. My bad.

Denver at Minnesota

THE SITUATION: Minnesota had the ball, first down and 10 at the Denver 19-yard line with 3:33 left in the second quarter. Denver led 12-7.

THE PLAY: Minnesota quarterback Christian Ponder completed a 19-yard pass to Kyle Rudolph for a touchdown. Quinton was called for defensive pass interference. After an officials review, the ruling the field stood and the penalty was declined.

MY TAKE: Everybody talks about the process of completing the catch, but what most fail to realize is that the process only applies to a receiver going to the ground. In Rudolph’s case, since he was not going to the ground, he has to do three things: First, he must get total control of the ball; second, he must get two feet clearly down; and finally, he must maintain control of the ball long enough "to enable him to perform any act common to the game (i.e., maintaining control of the ball long enough to pitch it, pass it or advance with it, or avoid or ward off an opponent, etc.''). Rudolph did all three of these things, therefore, making it a touchdown. Many people ask if there is a difference between the end zone and the field of play when determining a catch or a fumble. The answer is yes, but only in this situation. In the field of play, this would have been ruled a catch and a fumble. But in the end zone, when the receiver completes the catch, it’s a touchdown and the play is over.

Tagged: Falcons, Bills, Broncos, Packers, Vikings, Giants, Texans, Jared Allen, James Sanders, Tim Tebow, C.J. Spiller, Kyle Rudolph

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