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Replay overturns call it should not have



Week 11: Redskins at Cowboys

In the closing seconds of the second quarter of the Redskins–Cowboys game, Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell was driven out of bounds for a 5-yard loss as he threw a forward pass. Replay official Bob McGrath called for a review, and referee Alberto Riveron reversed the call on the field to incomplete pass.

The play, however, was not reviewable. The league office informed Cowboys owner Jerry Jones of this.

It’s not abundantly clear in the rulebook, as we have two seemingly contradictory statements:

The Replay System will cover the following play situations only:

(a) Plays governed by Sideline, Goal Line, End Zone, and End Line: …

3. Runner/receiver in or out of bounds.

(b) Passing plays:

1. Pass ruled complete/incomplete/intercepted in the field of play.

Since the call on the field was out of bounds, any subsequent action by Campbell is disregarded, even if it actually happened in bounds. This is because the play is ruled dead at that point.

There are exceptions to the “ball is dead” edict, as in the case of a clear recovery of a fumble or interception when an incomplete pass is overturned on replay. In these cases, there is no new action after the dead ball other than the recovery. What Riverón’s ruling on the play did was establish two new actions after a dead ball, namely, that a pass was subsequently thrown and the pass was incomplete.

If we were to take a different scenario for the same play, and say that there was an on-field ruling of incomplete pass, this could be reviewed to see if Campbell stepped out prior to releasing the pass.

Further complicating the ruling was that the Redskins were assessed a delay of game penalty prior to the replay review being called. (This is legal, because the replay official can review the last play until a legal snap has occurred.) In an Emmit Brown-like paradox of the universe, it was determined that the delay of game could not have occurred because of the reversal, and the gamebook does not even reflect the fact that it was called.

One comment made by Jones, a former Competition Committee member, argued that the media were in contact with the league’s Park Avenue offices during the game. He suggests, in a very NHL-esque fashion, that “We’ve got to get going where there’s communication between [the league office in] New York and the games.” Unfortunately, the average official is correct only 98% of the time. There is only 60 seconds to review the play, and the officials who have been hired to officiate a game must do their job without outside help. Yes, there are extraordinary circumstances, such as lightning or fan interference that warrant consultation with the executive level. But other than those once-in-a-career moments, the referee’s decision, even if incorrect, is final.

Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)