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Officially, close calls not subject to review

AFC Championship

4th Quarter | :27 remaining | Patriots 23-20 | Ravens ball | 2nd & 1 @ NE 14 | video

The Ravens, driving for a potential conference-winning touchdown against the Patriots, found themselves a dropped pass short in their effort. They had to settle for a field goal attempt to tie the game, and were denied a shot at destiny on the missed field goal.

On the second-down pass in the end zone, Ravens receiver Lee Evans was not able to secure the catch in the right corner of the end zone. Patriots defensive back Sterling Moore saved the Patriots fortunes by jarring the ball loose, causing the ball to fall incomplete. After the network replayed the incompletion, there was a collective eek from the audience. It is close enough to be reviewed, isn’t it? The replay official determined that it did not warrant another look from referee Alberto Riveron and the call stood.

But should the replay official have challenged the call because this is a pivotal moment in a championship game? Depends not only on who you ask, but when.

NFL spokesman Mike Signora backed up the call made by the replay official:

The ruling on the field of an incomplete pass was confirmed by the Instant Replay assistant, correctly, and as a result, there was no need to stop the game

(As a side note, we refer to the person in the replay booth as the “replay official,” to be consistent with the NFL rule book. All references in the rule book to “replay assistant” were changed in the last offseason, with no reason published at the time. We believe it is to reflect the increased decisions he is required to make after scoring plays and after the two-minute warning.)

Mike Pereira, the Fox Sports rules-interpretation jukebox, gave his assessment on Sunday, via text message to Pro Football Talk, that matched the league response:

Clearly not a catch. Ball coming out before second foot clearly down. . . .   No need to review it because it was clearly incomplete.

(Another side note: this was not posted on Twitter, as Pereira usually does, because of a Twitter brownout yesterday. Or something like that.)

So the 2012 Mike Pereira would disagree with the 2009 Pereira, who was then the vice-president of officiating for the NFL:

Next time it happens, at this point of the game, this big of a play, let’s go ahead and [call for a replay review].

His 2009 doppelgänger was referring to a play near the end of Super Bowl XLIII, when Cardinals quarterback   Kurt Warner fumbled in the late stages of the game, when it looked like it was possible that it was an incomplete pass. No replay review was called, but Pereira acknowledged that it should be standard protocol to double check these things at the end of a game, because the calls are just too crucial.

It appeared that this advice was followed early in the 2009 season (we called it a “critical juncture review clause“). Apparently, it was forgotten. If it was ever committed to internal policy, it has since been retracted.

And, while it doesn’t silence the conspiracy theorists, the replay official did his job and the ruling on the field –   a correct one — stood.

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Ben Austro
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)

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9 thoughts on “Officially, close calls not subject to review

  1. You miss the point here a bit, especially by saying “the replay official did his job and the ruling on the field – a correct one – stood.” Let’s not feed the theorists, but the fact of the matter was that the play was very close, so much that when you go frame by frame, which they replay official can do – there’s arguable evidence that he does have two feet touching before the ball is knocked out. (See

    So the order of the how the officials on the field did their job in response to the replay official was correct. The official himself, however, should have understood that there was sufficient cause to keep taking a look, as he certainly couldn’t “confirm” such a call in such a short amount of time.

  2. “…when you go frame by frame, which they replay official can do – there’s arguable evidence that he does have two feet touching before the ball is knocked out”

    When Mike Pereira was beginning his last season as vice-president of officiating, he posted a video for us and other members of the media. He said that you must see the catch for a recognizable amount of time. While freeze frames and slow motion can be used for other parts of a catch (most significantly, feet in bounds), determining if a player held the ball long enough to count as a catch, Pereira said the referee will watch the catch in regular speed to make that determination. And remember, the determination that an official makes is not “catch/no catch?” but “is the call confirmed?” It may seem semantical, but it is key to understanding when a replay is going to be called.

    The rule states that you must have the ability to make a football move after the catch. If you drop the ball immediately, then you have not secured the catch long enough to be considered a catch by a professional player. Note that you don’t actually have to make a football move, just that you would have the ability to do so.

    So, as we said during the game, even if there is a contention that there was a split-second amount of possession, it is not enough to rule a completed catch.

  3. A frame-by-frame review of the video shows that the officials got it right:

    In the screenshot at the link above, you can see (A) the ball has come loose, i.e. out of Evans’ control, and (B) a slight but unmistakable shadow cast on the turf by Evans’ foot, i.e. his second foot was not yet down.

    But I’m sure we’ll hear about this for years from Baltimore fans—how their championship trophy was stolen.(

    Now, they’re changing the blame line to the scoreboard. Apparently Ravens coaches don’t know what down it is unless it’s on the JumboTron. Not that the down should have mattered — the amount of time left meant they had to kick whether it was 3rd or 4th. Their real mistake was the failure to use a timeout, causing Cundiff to rush.)

  4. Ed Hochuli has to go. Not only did he blow the Vernon Davis out of bounds call what was with this ego maniac’s long winded OT explanation which proceeds to get wrong also. Time for some new blood these guys are gettin old quick

  5. Sorry, Ben Austro, the whistle CLEARLY blows after Ahmad Bradshaw’s fumble. That was a terrible call.

  6. Jack, the whistle is irrlevant to determining what instant the play becomes dead. If an official rules forward progress is stopped, the ball goes to the point where the forward progress was stopped, not where the ball is when the whistle was blown.

    Put it another way… if an official determines that forward progress is stopped, and it takes, say, half a second for him to blow the whistle, the defense does not get a half second to push a player back further. The ball goes back to the spot where the progress was stopped, because the ball was determined to be dead there. The whistle blows after the dead ball is declared, so any dead ball action, including losing possession of the ball, is null and void.

  7. @John U, I understand what you saw on the Vernon Davis touchdown. It appears that he did step out of bounds. However, with the camera angle and Davis’s heel off the ground, there is no “conclusive” evidence that he stepped out (or, “uncontrovertable” evidence). Because it is not clearly out of bounds, the call on the field stands.

    However, if Davis is ruled out on that play, and the 49ers challenge it, I think that the hypothetical challenge also is denied, because there is no conclusive evidence that he definitely stayed in bounds.

    The overtime explanation was warranted, because the modified sudden death is a dumb rule to begin with, and it seems no matter how you explain it, people are still confused. Some of the Broncos players were similarly confused when they scored the game-winning, overtime-ending touchdown in the Wild Card weekend.

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