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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.

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)