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2016 Conference Championships

Fumble recovery at the goal line has unusual ‘momentum exception’ ruling

The Falcons were able to take advantage of a Packers fumble, with an unusual recovery at the goal line by cornerback Jalen Collins



NFC Championship: Packers at Falcons (video)

The Falcons were able to take advantage of a Packers fumble, with an unusual recovery at the goal line by cornerback Jalen Collins. The recovery appeared to be at the 1-yard line, with Collins rolling over into the end zone. Collins was touched on the helmet in the end zone, which ended the play.

Should this have been a safety? Down at the 1?

The question initially was if the roll-over by Collins was on his own volition or not. If it was — which would be a huge leap to rule that absent something really deliberate — it is a safety. If not, it could be ruled down at the 1. Instead, a touchback was ruled, and the definitive angle for such a call was not shown until after the first Falcons snap occurred.

The recovery begins when the defense has control of the ball, but the principles of the catch process also apply to fumbles. While Collins was on the ball, he did not secure possession until he was rolling over. In this image, Collins does not yet have the ball.

Possession is ruled shortly after this with the ball in the field of play. Collins’s momentum then carries him into the end zone. This means we must consult the “momentum exception” — so named because it is in the rules as an exception to the safety rules when momentum applies. Rule 11-5-1 (b) (Exception 2), with emphasis added:

If a defensive player, in the field of play, intercepts a pass or catches or recovers a fumble, backward pass, scrimmage kick, free kick, or fair catch kick, and his original momentum carries him into his end zone where the ball is declared dead in his team’s possession. The ball belongs to the defensive team at the spot where the player’s foot or other body part touched the ground to establish possession.

As Collins clearly has a body part touching in the end zone, this is a touchback under the momentum rule. But, this was not clear to the audience — and still not clear to absent a review. Fox Sports opted to not put rules analyst Mike Pereira on to explain the call. The officiating command center, manned by senior vice president of officiating Dean Blandino, opted to not review the call.

The combination of the importance of a championship game and the aspect of a pivotal call really necessitated a stop-down review involving referee Bill Vinovich. The argument that this is confirmed by the replay official and the command center is a hollow answer. This abdicated the responsibility of explaining the call, leaving that analysis to be delivered by irate fans watching the game at Buffalo Wild Wings.

During the ensuing drive, Blandino offered up a correct analysis of the call via Twitter, but that is just way too late, not to mention it leaves the explanation hanging in a social-media platform that a fraction of the fans access, rather than on a network television broadcast that the league has extraordinary control over.

Added to that, when Pereira was vice president of officiating, he admitted that a fumble at the end of Super Bowl XLIII was properly called, but that the situation should have necessitated a replay review so that fans were confident that the call was handled properly.

Fox and the NFL really failed miserably and did not handle the situation properly.

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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