NFL

Replay needs revisiting after missed TD

Mike Pereira analyzes a controversial call from Week 17.
Mike Pereira analyzes a controversial call from Week 17.
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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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The Detroit Lions had a great 2011. They finished the season with a 10-6 record and made the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

Detroit won’t, however, remember the first day of 2012 very fondly. The Lions lost to the Packers 45-41 on Sunday but had a couple of tough calls go against them that clearly could have made a difference in the outcome.

The most damaging was a play in the second quarter that cost the Lions a touchdown, while the other, one that wasn't reviewable, could have easily gone their way — but didn’t.

A couple of things really bothered me about the play in the second quarter. One is the new rule that was instituted this season that involves scoring reviews, and the other is the fact that the officials should have gotten right what was relatively an easy call on the field. Replay should not be used as a crutch when it comes to officiating. The emphasis needs to remain on the officials making the right call initially.

Here was the situation: Detroit had the ball, second-and-6 at the Green Bay 11-yard line with 6:08 left in the second quarter. Green Bay led 17-16.

Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford threw a pass into the end zone, and it looked like Titus Young made the catch for a touchdown, but it was ruled an incomplete pass.

There's no question this was a touchdown. Young got both feet down in the end zone and maintained possession of the ball after hitting the ground. Since it was not ruled a touchdown, Detroit coach Jim Schwartz would have had to challenge this play in order to get the call reversed to a touchdown. Unfortunately, he had already challenged twice before and lost one of the two challenges. He would have been allowed a third challenge only had he won both of the previous challenges.

Therefore, a mistake on what should have been a touchdown had to stand as an incomplete pass. After another Stafford incompletion, the Lions were forced to settle for a field goal. I’m no math major, but that was a four-point swing, and the Lions lost by four. The loss, combined with Atlanta’s win over Tampa Bay, also cost the Lions the fifth seed in the playoffs, and now they have to play at New Orleans in the wild-card round next week.

Now for my problem with the new rule: I don’t like it. I’m talking about the rule in which only plays that are ruled a score are automatically reviewed. It’s a one-way rule. In my mind, the entire envelope of the end zone should have been made automatically reviewable, regardless of whether a score was ruled.

It’s pretty hard for me to accept the fact that if the officials would have ruled this a touchdown, it automatically would have been reviewed. So even though it really should have been a touchdown, the replay official was unable to correct the mistake.

The other play in question was one that came with Green Bay leading 38-34 with 7:25 in the game.

Detroit had the ball, fourth-and-22 at the Green Bay 47-yard line with Ben Graham punting. Graham punted to the Packers’ Jordy Nelson, who signaled for a fair catch, but appeared to muff it. The officials ruled that Nelson had possession and the ball was dead at the Green Bay 47-yard line.

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In order to complete the catch of a punt, the receiver must do the same thing it takes to complete a pass. First, he must get total control of the ball. Second, he must have both feet clearly down in bounds. And lastly, he must maintain control of the ball long enough to perform an act common to the game of football.

Nelson completed the first two parts of the equation, but it’s very close as to whether he maintained control of the ball. The back judge ruled that he did maintain control, and therefore, the play ended there. The play is not reviewable.

The instant replay casebook states in approved ruling (15.39) regarding possession of a punt that whether a punt is muffed or possessed is not reviewable. Unfortunately there’s enough suspicion here that if the play was ruled correctly, it could have been ruled a muff, and the Lions would have recovered.

A tough day all around for the Lions, one that will make next week that much tougher.

Let’s take a look at a few of the other interesting calls from Sunday.

THE GAME: San Francisco at St. Louis

THE SITUATION: San Francisco had the ball, fourth-and-7 from the St. Louis 14-yard line with 1:04 left in the third quarter. The 49ers led 20-10.

THE PLAY: San Francisco faked the field goal, and kicker David Akers threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree.

MY TAKE: In 2004, New England wide receiver Troy Brown caught a touchdown pass from kicker Adam Vinatieri on a fake field goal against the Rams. Sunday, Crabtree caught a touchdown pass on a fake field goal — also against the Rams. Two special teams touchdowns on fake field goals. Here’s the common denominator: The special teams coordinator in both cases was Brad Seely. This play is legal as long as Crabtree had been in on the previous play, did not set near the sideline in front of his team area (32-yard line to 32-yard line), and did not go to his position with other players who were leaving the field as substitutes. It is likely that 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh discussed this play with the officials when the linesman and side judge visited him in the locker room before the game. This is the type of play that coaches discuss with officials to make sure they are aware and also to make sure it is being run legally.

THE GAME: Detroit at Green Bay.

THE SITUATION: Detroit had the ball, kicking off after scoring a touchdown with 13:00 left in the first quarter. Detroit led 7-0.

THE PLAY: Jason Hanson kicked off to the Green Bay 1-yard line. The Packers’ Pat Lee, who was standing in the end zone, touched the ball in front of the goal line and pulled the ball in the end zone and tried to down it. The play was ruled a safety. After a scoring review, the play was upheld.

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MY TAKE: This was a strange play because the kickoff was muffed in the end zone by Lee, and the ball went totally out into the field of play before Lee secured possession with his right hand. At that point, the kick has ended. Lee then brought the ball back into the end zone with his knee on the ground and made no attempt to advance. The ball became dead at that point, and since Lee had brought it back into the end zone after he had gained possession, he is deemed to be responsible for putting the ball into the end zone. Therefore, by rule, it was a safety. The replay official initiated a review because all scoring plays, including a safety, a successful field goal and a successful try for point, are automatically confirmed or reviewed.

THE GAME: Tampa Bay at Atlanta

THE SITUATION: Tampa Bay had the ball, first-and-10 at the Tampa Bay 49-yard line with 8:42 left in the second quarter. Atlanta led 35-0.

THE PLAY: Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman completed a pass to Kellen Winslow for no gain, who then fumbled. The ball was recovered by Atlanta’s William Moore. Tampa Bay challenged the pass-completion ruling, and the play was reversed.

MY TAKE: Sometimes there is more than one thing to review on the same play. And sometimes these reviews seem to take longer than 60 seconds. Here’s a hint. If the referee takes substantially more time than normal, you can almost be assured that there is a reversal coming. Once the referee makes a decision to reverse, he then has to find where to properly spot the ball and to determine whether the clock needs to be adjusted. In this case, referee Scott Green confirmed Winslow completed the catch and then fumbled. He then began to review whether the ball was legally recovered by Moore. When looking at the recovery, it appeared that Moore touched the ball at the exact time the heel of his right foot touched the ground. That is not considered re-establishing back into the field of play after being out of bounds. Moore would need to have both feet completely down before making contact with the football. Once Green established there was not a recovery, he needed to find the spot of the fumble, since it became a fumble out of bounds, and he had to correct the clock and set it to the precise time that was showing when Moore first touched the football. Sometimes there’s more to the replay than people think.
 

Tagged: Falcons, Lions, Packers, 49ers, Buccaneers, Jordy Nelson, Pat Lee, Michael Crabtree, William Moore

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