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Inadvertent whistle play should have been blown dead before it was blown dead

Week 12: Raiders at Bengals (video at 2:50)

On a 3rd-and-6, the Bengals completed a five-yard pass which was immediately fumbled near the sideline. The Raiders managed to keep the ball from going out of bounds by batting the ball in bounds. The Raiders then recovered the loose ball to return for a touchdown.

Unfortunately, line judge Julian Mapp anticipated the ball going out of bounds and blew the play dead. Since neither team had possession at the time of the inadvertent whistle, the Bengals get the option under Rule 7-2-1(n)(ii):

If the ball is a loose ball, resulting from a fumble, backward pass, or illegal forward pass, the team last in possession may elect to put the ball in play at the spot where possession was lost or to replay the down.

In this case — a yard short on third down — the Bengals elected to replay the down.

However, it is not clear that there should have been a complete pass in the first place. The receiver seems to have lost the ball without having the opportunity to make a football move. The Raiders could have challenged, because the challengeable part of the play occurred well before the inadvertent whistle. The Raiders would not get possession, but at least it would have been fourth down. The inadvertent whistle, itself, is not able to be reviewed.

Also, there is no automatic review of the play, because it was not a turnover, since the Raiders recovery of the ball was disregarded.

Alberto Riveron was the referee.

Update: An earlier version of this post identified the side judge as the official who blew the inadvertent whistle, but we cannot absolutely confirm.

Also, we contacted the league office for a comment on the play, and a spokesman replied that there would not be a statement issued.

Update 11/29: We have confirmed the inadvertent whistle was from line judge Julian Mapp.

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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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16 thoughts on “Inadvertent whistle play should have been blown dead before it was blown dead

  1. Well, you seem to have an opinion that doesn’t have any reality involved with it… All the non-partisan people involved (announcers & referees) SAID THAT IT WAS A FUMBLE!!! And anyone with sanity and good vision could see IT WAS A FUMBLE. The rule involved in completely asinine! What should have happened would be this… FOURTH DOWN AT THE SPOT THE BENGALS FUMBLED THE BALL!!!! How could ANYONE disagree with this logical conclusion?

  2. Of course we will never really hear about it on ESPN. How about the 10 minute debacle in the Ravens v Chargers game. Moving the chains, re-measuring. Terrible. I am starting to believe the replacements, even with all the media criticism were not so bad. Remember, they had only 4 games of experience while the “regulars” had 70 years of experience.

    And nothing really from the commentators–the union collaborators.

  3. The Raiders actually had 2 erroneous, momentum-killing calls made against them today, including a clipping call that didn’t happen (also confirmed by replay and TV announcers) that shut down a promising drive. Since you can’t reverse a blown whistle, then it’s Bengals ball where it’s out of bounds post-fumble, and loss of down…period! The Raiders are perfectly capable of defeating themselves without the help of the refs. They certainly didn’t deserve to have the game’s potential outcome dictated by judgment-impaired non-players. I say expand use of replay to get more calls right. These guys play way too hard to deserve anything less…

  4. I was at the game and the refs totally blew it. The ball looked like it went out of bounds, but it looked like it never actually touched the ground out of bounds. It should definitely have been 4th & 1 at the minimum. Without the idiotic whistle it’s a touchdown for Oakland.

  5. I know I’m not alone when I say this “inadvertant whistle” garbage would never happen to the Patriots. It sure seems the Raiders get the short end on every possible call. Also, what prevents a ref from “inadvertantly” blowing his whistle any time he sees a result going against his wager? Nothing. The NFL is looking more and more like fake football. We need a new league to compete against this flawed business.

  6. @john. I agree that CIN got the benefit by replaying the down, but they had to go with what the rulebook says. The inadvertent whistle is the worst, because (1) it kills the play and “what would have been,” (2) there is no equitable resolution no matter what, and (3) the official (and the crew for that matter) consider the IW to be the ultimate sin in officiating.

    As bad as the IW was, they did correct it by the rulebook. Whoever blew the whistle will get marked down for it, but the other six will not because they followed the rules to the letter.

  7. What I don’t understand is why they ruled it was an “inadvertent whistle.” The ref didn’t accidentally blow his whistle. He was calling the ball out of bounds and the play dead. Obviously the ball stayed in bounds, but shouldn’t that be seen as an “erroneous call” and not an “inadvertent whistle”?

    If the ref blew the whistle because he anticipated the ball going out of bounds, shouldn’t the call on the field have been “ball out of bounds” instead of “never mind, that doesn’t count”?

  8. While that seems to make sense, the rulebook (and it’s generally the same at all levels from high school to pros) says otherwise. Even though the call was deemed dead ball out of bounds, it must be considered what it actually is: dead ball, loose without possession.

    Despite the apparent outbreak of IWs (I think I’ve encountered more this season than all other NFL seasons in my lifetime), it is a rare occurrence. It must be treated consistently, and the only way to do a catch-all is to give it to the team in possession or replay the down (with minor exceptions for kicking plays).

    And that’s why I said it is the worst call, because no matter what, there is no equitable remedy.

  9. The white hat should have used his discretion in the rules interpretation. Either the play was incomplete or a fumble at the time of the whistle. Disallowing the return, I understand, 4th down at the spot and go forward. At that point the officials lost control of the game. I knew something was coming after that ruling and it was their fault. You could tell by their body language they blew the call. The ensuing fight was almost inevitable. I’ve been a part of IWs and all you can do is try to make it as just as possible within the rules.

  10. watching the video, you can see the line judge throw his bean bag to spot the fumble then blow his whistle as he saw the ball go out of bounds. Ben, I understand what you are saying, but I argue your interpretation is narrow and not in the spirit of the rules.

  11. That’s fine that you argue my interpretation. Support your argument with a citation from the rulebook or the casebook that allows for that broader interpretation.

  12. IMHO what the NFL rulebook needs is some sort of trump-quality clause that creates a power of say… “Football Sense.” In other words, the refs can say “It makes Football Sense” for the play to be ruled a fumble out of bounds. 4th & 1. Football Sense is subjective and subject to interpretation by the zebras who have been officiating the game for decades. the problem in SO many cases is that rulebook just doesn’t make “Football Sense.” Call me crazy but I think you’d end up with a better game.

  13. Let me float another possibility: if the inadvertent whistle is not blown, or is blown after the turnover and it is Oakland ball. Then by virtue of the turnover, the replay official takes another look at the play, and they rule incomplete pass (4th down, though, not 3rd). I don’t think the Raiders would have gotten the ball, IW or no IW.

    Also, keep in mind that the Bengals got a break by a do-over. Games are full of lucky breaks and fortunate bounces. The Bengals still had to convert on 3rd down and mount a drive down the field. While they did get the second chance, the Bengals were not given unearned points because the Raiders had ample opportunity to stop them.

  14. What makes you think it was Jimmy DeBell who blew the whistle. He is on the other side of the field and is not part of the conversation at all. I would think either Mapp or Steve Zimmer had the IW.

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