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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:

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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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10 thoughts on “New replay rule does not give Seahawks fumble recovery

  1. This is a bad rule.

    In my opinion the rule should be that if the video shows clear evidence that there was a fumble – assuming the whistle was not blown (which I don’t believe it was on this play) – the play should be ruled a fumble and either:
    A) the current rule, namely if there is clear video evidence of a recovery the ball goes to that team, or
    B) if the ball goes into a scrum without clear possession it is treated like any fumble into a scrum, namely the officials pull players off the pile until they make a ruling based on who has the ball.

    To say, well we have video evidence that it was a true fumble, but because the official got it wrong and we don’t know who ended up with it, screw that, we’re ruling the ball down at the spot of the fumble and the team that lost the ball gets it back… Total BS to me. And not just because I’m a Seahawk fan. I think the rule itself is just plain wrong.

  2. Football Zebras,
    Yes they should have reviewed it, but that isn’t the question. Why wasn’t the ball awarded to the Seahawks initially? Why was it awarded to St. Louis? If a fumbled football goes into a pile, whoever emerges with the ball, gets the ball correct? If Richard Sherman recovered and gave the ref the ball (can anyone confirm) why did the refs award the ball to the Rams?

    Thanks for the insight guys.

  3. The issue with this outcome is the changing stories. Initially the decision was made , Pete Carrol was denied a review. Then as there was no clear video to view. Then it was said after review of the video it was unclear who had the ball. Finally it was said the play occurred under a two-minute mark. What was going on here?

    The argument the Hawks played a poor first half is of no matter, this is how any game can go, and is only another excuse for something which looks somewhat sinister. When calls such as this are made, and they can be made against any team, is it any wonder there is significant unrest in the Seahawks camp? Most of us saw the video of the ball ending up under Richard Sherman, contained by his knees. Therein he had control and recovered before the time slipped under two-minutes anyway, it was obvious. Who can blame Earl Thomas for saying, We are playing the Ref’s too.

    Pro-level sports is not the place for excuses and story telling from the Officials. The play was in motion, the clock was running, so having the time tick under two-minutes was unstoppable. I believe the Ref’s finally stopped the clock at 1:58. The Ref’s have a paid duty to assure accuracy whenever possible, they chose to look the other way. This was a bad call, lazy, and now since the smoke has cleared, appears to have a fair share of lying with finger-pointing and excuses.

    If the play had started under two-minutes, occurring within this time, case closed. But it didn’t, which required a judgement call, and what we all saw was a recovery of the ball completely ignored. The NFL appears to have some corruption. Are games being fixed?

  4. When you look how the punt return was done after the player on the opposite side called a ‘weak’ fair catch, the ball cannot be advanced by anyone ! The refs were determined to keep the Rams in the lead. There has been dozens of fumbles already that refs waited to see who had the ball at the bottom of a scrum. It was as if the refs hurried up and ran the play for the Rams so it couldn’t be changed ! SMELL BS ! LOOKS LIKE BS ! ITS BS ! The refs did the same on momentum changing calls in Detroit vs New Orleans. Not a coincidence.

  5. The fact remains the refs didn’t even review the play. How can this be? They have consistently reviewed even the most obvious plays this season, including a clear TD by the Hawks that game, but for some reason didn’t think this was worth a second look? I can’t say for certain Sherman had the ball, but I think it was worth at least 45 seconds to be sure they got it right. It was wrong. It left me with a bad feeling in my stomach. It was also just one of many calls, or lack of calls, that seemed to almost hand the game to the Rams. Almost every significant play by the Hawks was called back on a offensive hold that looked a lot like blocking to me, I’m not saying the Hawks didn’t get caught on some holds, I just thought a couple were questionable. Thomas just said what those of us in Seattle have been saying since 2004, “we’re playing the refs.” However, this fumble is so clearly biased it forces the rest of the country to take a good hard look at how the refs are calling the games.

  6. Who came out of the scrum with the ball; i.e., who handed it to the zebra ( while other zebras appeared to have already decided where to place the ball)…?

  7. “There is no angle that shows conclusively on video that a Seahawks player secured control of the ball before it goes into a pile.”

    There is no angle that shows conclusively — or even possibly — that a Rams player ended up on top of the ball. Sherman fell on it, Burley on top of him. The video evidence points in the direction of the Seahawks. “Conclusive evidence” works both ways, and because they knew they screwed up they didn’t want to review it and rushed to get the ball back to the LOS.

    Too much power in the hands of the refs.

  8. And now, after they’ve had the chance to get all their stories straight, the latest ‘new’ story, this time from the head of officiating, is that the Ram’s recovered in the pile. Yeah, right… Sure I believe that BS.

    It’d be a lot more believable if the on-field officials, the official scorer, the broadcasters, New York at the time, hell, anyone…had said that. This looks way, way too much like after-the-fact cover-your-ass making it up as they go along bull****. What’s next? Overruling three touchdowns against the Hawks in a single game? Oh, wait…

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