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Reviewing NFL wild card Saturday

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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.

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Confusing. Complicated. Controversial.

When you combined all of that, the end result was wild as the opening round of the NFL playoffs started Saturday in New Orleans and Houston.

The one play that had most people buzzing, a play that might have been the most baffling of the season, took place in second quarter of the Lions-Saints game, won by New Orleans 45-28. It was a pass-fumble play that could have taken away a touchdown for the Lions, who were leading 14-7 at the time.

Here was the situation:

New Orleans had the ball, second-and-6 at the Detroit 38-yard line with 5:39 left in the second quarter. Saints quarterback Drew Brees dropped back to pass and was hit by Detroit's Willie Young while attempting to throw. The ball came loose and was then recovered by the Lions' Justin Durant.

Referee Tony Corrente ruled a fumble and a recovery by Durant. Another official appeared to rule that it was an incomplete pass. The timing of his ruling came into question as the whistle appeared to come before Durant's recovery.

Let's take a look at what would have happened if the ruling on the field had ended up as an incomplete pass.

If that had occurred, Detroit could have challenged and the ruling would have been reversed to a fumble, with a recovery by Detroit. No advance would have been allowed, based on the rule change in 2009 — the result of a Jay Cutler pass-fumble play in the Denver-San Diego game that occurred during the final week of the 2008 season.

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But let's take a look at the flip side. If the ruling on the field was a fumble — and the whistle came before the recovery — then you have the potential for an inadvertent whistle, and the Saints would have retained possession of the ball.

That would not have been reviewable. Inadvertent whistles are not reviewable.

Nobody really knows what was said on the field when the officials huddled. All I know is they did the fairest thing they could do in this situation, which was to give the ball to Detroit. It was clearly a fumble and Detroit cleanly recovered it.

That being said, while the Lions did get the ball, they did not get the advance they would have been entitled to had the whistle not been blown. No one knows for sure if the Lions would have returned it for a touchdown, but they clearly would have advanced the ball much farther down the field — and possibly even for a touchdown.

We just don't know if the Saints actually stopped when they heard the whistle. But one thing we do know is that it was clearly a mistake that could have changed the complexion of the game had the Lions gone up 21-7.

Like I said … confusing, complicated and controversial.

In the other wild card game, Houston defeated Cincinnati, 31-10.

Here are some of the other interesting calls from Saturday’s games.

THE GAME: Detroit at New Orleans

THE SITUATION: New Orleans had the ball, second-and-5 at the Detroit 12-yard line with 21 seconds left in the second quarter. Detroit led 14-7.

THE PLAY: Saints quarterback Drew Brees completed a 12-yard pass to Marques Colston for a touchdown. Detroit's Amari Spievey was called for unnecessary roughness for a hit to the head on Colston. The replay assistant initiated a review on the pass completion ruling and the play was reversed.

MY TAKE: The reversal was obvious. In the process of completing the catch while going to the ground, Colston lost possession of the ball and the ball touched the ground. That makes the pass incomplete. However, since a personal foul was called on Spievey, that penalty has to be enforced. That took the ball to the 6-yard line.

In my opinion, the contact of the open hand to the head of Colston was not enough for a foul. By rule, even contact to the head of the quarterback with the hand or arm, must be forceable. I just don't feel that this was the type of contact that would merit a personal foul.

That being said, the Saints didn't capitalize, as they ended up settling for a field goal instead of a touchdown on the last play of the half.

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THE GAME: Cincinnati at Houston

THE SITUATION: Cincinnati had the ball, first-and-10 at the Cincinnati 28-yard line with 9:57 left in the first quarter. There was no score.

THE PLAY: Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton attempted a long pass to A.J. Green that was incomplete. But Houston's Glover Quin was called for pass interference, which resulted in a 52-yard penalty.

MY TAKE: I am not a fan of this pass interference rule, which makes this penalty a spot foul, and here are the reasons why.

-- There is no guarantee that the receiver is going to make the catch, with or without interference.

-- It's the hardest call that the officials have to make with players and officials both on the move and the ball in the air.

-- No other penalty in the book allows for more than 15 yards, including personal fouls.

The call was right here, but this could have been a 52-yard mistake, in terms of yardage. Offenses already get every advantage there is, and this just gives them a bigger chunk of yardage without a guarantee that the pass would have been completed.

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I also don't buy the notion that defenders will intentionally tackle receivers if they know they are beat. The rule is a maximum 15-yard penalty in college and defenders try to make a plays. They don't reach out and tackle just because the penalty is only 15 yards.

I think you have to do more as an offense than collect 52 yards on a pass interference penalty. Four plays later, the Bengals scored the first touchdown of a game.

You can kick a guy in the teeth and the maximum penalty you can get is 15 yards. You pull on a jersey with a pass in the air, and it might turn out to be a 52-yard penalty.

I don't buy it and I never will.

 

THE GAME: Cincinnati at Houston

THE SITUATION: Houston had the ball, third-and-4 at the Houston 37-yard line with 4:33 left in the second quarter. The Bengals led 10-7.

THE PLAY: Texans quarterback T.J. Yates completed an 8-yard pass to Owen Daniels, who was then tackled by Thomas Howard. Howard took the ball away from Daniels after he hit the ground and Bengals coach Marvin Lewis challenged the completed catch and down-by-contact ruling. After review, the play was confirmed and the call was upheld.

MY TAKE: This was not a good challenge by Lewis. It was his second ill-advised challenge of the first half. I can't fathom being in a playoff game with 4:33 left in the second quarter and being out of challenges.

This play was ruled a catch and Daniels was ruled down by contact before the ball was taken away. This cannot be turned into an interception. Who is ruled to have gained possession of a loose ball is not reviewable.

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A pass is a loose ball; therefore, when the line judge ruled a completion, it could not be reversed into an interception.

Lewis, or his coaches, should have realized that and not have gone through with the challenge. It was obvious that Daniels was down, with control of the ball, so the Bengals stood to gain nothing with that challenge.

Tagged: Bengals, Lions, Saints, Texans, Drew Brees, Marques Colston, Owen Daniels, Justin Durant

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