— Michael Yanow (@DonchaYaKnow) October 25, 2016
Week 7: Texans at Broncos (video)
The first play of the fourth quarter lead to confusion on both sides of the ball as Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler appeared to have an incomplete pass when the ball slipped from his hands. After a brief conference with his crew, referee Carl Cheffers announced the decision:
The ruling on the field is a fumble, recovered by the defense, and dropped at this point. It is Denver’s ball.
It is not clear which official hit the whistle repeatedly after the camera cut away from the ball position, but it is actually irrelevant to the determination of this play. Looking at the all-22 and the end-zone coach’s film, Cheffers and head linesman Kent Payne were seen transitioning to “reverse mechanics,” or covering the play as if it was a fumble. When the loose ball was recovered by cornerback Chris Harris Jr., he jogged about 6 yards downfield and dropped the ball there. Players were walking off as the video ended. Also, the back judge had a flag for illegal contact earlier in the play; that flag was picked up.
When Harris drops the ball, this is still a live ball, and the Texans could have regained possession on a recovery. Since everyone abandoned the play, the covering officials then declared the ball dead, reverting possession to the team last in possession. Neither Cheffers nor Payne dropped a beanbag to mark a fumble, so it looks as if they were holding their whistle to discuss after the play. Since an incomplete pass cannot be overturned into a fumble and runback, it is safer to allow the play to continue, giving the crew the flexibility to make the determination in conference without affecting the ultimate outcome. This is an acceptable mechanic when there is ambiguity over a call that could shut down a potentially live play.
As for Osweiler’s attempted pass, the call is very close, and in real time there does not appear to be any forward passing motion with control of the ball. Without control of the ball, this is nothing more than pushing the ball forward, and is, by rule, a fumble. By watching the replays, it is clear that Osweiler had finished his wind-up, but there is nothing that clearly shows a forward arm movement (more precisely, the hand going forward) with possession. Replay correctly went with allowing the call on the field to stand as a result.
It was certainly a little clunky as it played out, but this was correctly handled on the field and in replay.