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New replay rule does not give Seahawks fumble recovery



Week 7: Seahawks at Rams (video at 4:02)

A fumble by Rams running back Tre Mason was ruled to be recovered by the Rams as a swarm of players descended upon the ball downfield. Since the fumble occurred after the two-minute warning, the fumble recovery by the offense goes back to the spot of the fumble if it is not recovered by the fumbling player.

[Update 10/21: The original post stated that the original ruling was in error: that a loose ball recovery by Rams tight end Cory Harkey was ruled, despite the fact that possession was never secured. We relied on information from the official scorekeeper’s report, which gave the impression that this was the ruling on the field. The post has been updated to reflect that the recovery was ruled in the pile-up after the fumble, and the call was not in error.]

This is reviewable play to determine if a player can be credited with possession prior to the ball being enveloped by the pile. Since the fumble is not under dispute, we are looking at a review of a loose-ball recovery; a new rule added this season.

However, the play was not reviewed, because the replay official did not request one. (The Seahawks cannot challenge to have a replay review, since it was after the two-minute warning, and under the jurisdiction of the replay official.) In order to reverse the original ruling, there must be video evidence of the fumble recovery. Once a fumble enters a pile of players, there cannot be a review, because the continuous observation of the ball is lost. It appeared that Seahawks safety Richard Sherman could have grabbed the fumble from the video, there is no demonstration of control that would be required to establish possession.

Without the clear recovery, the ruling on the field stands as called. In these reviews, the player who emerges from a fumble pile cannot be used as evidence for a replay review.

The league’s Instant Replay Casebook has a similar call with a down-by-contact ruling under Approved Ruling 15.61, where the offense is Team A, and the defense Team B:

First-and-10 on 50. A2 takes a handoff and runs to the B42 where he loses the ball and several players from both teams attempt to recover it in a pile. Officials rule that A2 was down by contact at the B42, but replays show he fumbled.

Ruling: Reviewable. A’s ball second-and-2 on B42. There must be a clear recovery by B in order to award them with possession. If there is no clear recovery the ball goes back to team A at the down by contact spot and the defense loses the challenge and a timeout. A player coming out of a pile with the ball is not a clear recovery. The Referee must have video evidence that the player recovered the loose ball to reverse.

The New York office also reviewed the replay angles, and agreed with the replay official: there is no angle that shows conclusively on video that a Seahawks player secured control of the ball before it goes into a pile. Therefore, the play stands without a review.

Vice president of officiating Dean Blandino responded on Twitter to the call:

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)