Week 6: Patriots at Jets (video)
Jets tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins scored what appeared to be a clear touchdown. On review, not only was the touchdown reversed, the ball went to the Patriots on a touchback.
Seferian-Jenkins bobbles the ball at the 1-yard line and subsequently re-controls the ball. The bobble makes the ball a “loose ball” under the rules. Any loose ball (which includes passes) follows the catch process to establish possession. It may seem like an arbitrary designation, but this is a clear way to bookend loose ball calls by keeping all loose balls consistent, no matter how they occur. Seferian-Jenkins is going to the ground as he regains control of the ball, and lands out of bounds in the end zone. After landing, he is still struggling to demonstrate control of the ball, which is a determining factor if a player had “survived the ground,” establishing possession. This additional attempt to control takes the ball, still considered loose, out of bounds in the end zone, which is a touchback and loss of possession.
A similar call with a clearer example of loss/regaining control happened in a 2014 Washington-NY Giants game, when quarterback Robert Griffin III lost control before he broke the plane of the goal.
Was there indisputable evidence in replay to make the decision, though? While Corrente is a bystander in the centralized replay process, he is responsible for relaying the call from the home office. “Well, we went through two or three primary looks and then this other shot came up,” Corrente told a pool reporter after the game. “When the other shot came up, it was just ‘boom, boom, boom.’ It was a pretty quick determination. It was pretty obvious.”
Separately, the touchback ruling seems like a very harsh call to go against the offense, but this is consistent with all other rules regarding the end zone. This has been reviewed by the Competition Committee in the past, and they have deferred on making changes to an offensive fumble out of the end zone being ruled touchback.
Interview with referee Tony Corrente
Q: Can you just take me through the play as you saw it?
Corrente: The final shot that we saw was from the end zone that showed the New York Jets’ runner, we’ll call him a runner at that point, with the football starting to go toward the ground. He lost the ball. It came out of his control as he was almost to the ground. Now he re-grasps the ball and by rule, now he has to complete the process of a recovery, which means he has to survive the ground again. So in recovering it, he recovered, hit the knee, started to roll and the ball came out a second time. So the ball started to move in his hands this way, he’s now out of bounds in the end zone, which now created a touchback. So he didn’t survive the recovery and didn’t survive the ground during the recovery is what happened here.
Q: So this had nothing to do with the catch itself?
Corrente: Nothing to do with the catch. It was all dealing with goal line and going to the ground.
Q: The initial ruling was a touchdown. Why was that?
Corrente: Because the position of the official involved had the player’s back to him when all this action occurred, so when the player came down with the football, all he saw was the ball over the goal line and that’s why he did not know the ball came loose. Had the ball not come loose and he had crossed the goal line and he had possession and started to roll on his back, that would have been the touchdown. But because he lost the ball on his way to the ground the first time and had to re-grasp, that means now it’s a loose ball. He has to have control and survive the ground in the process of the recovery or, as we say, the process of the catch. So that’s what that was about.
Q: Who made the initial call?
Corrente: Our down judge [Patrick Turner].
Q: How long was the discussion with New York on that review?
Corrente: Well, we went through two or three primary looks and then this other shot came up. When the other shot came up, it was just “boom, boom, boom.” It was a pretty quick determination. It was pretty obvious.
Q: As far as you know, was the end zone shot shown on TV?
Corrente: I was with you in the stadium. It had to be, because that was the only shots we get is anything that’s shown on TV. We don’t get anything secret. I mean, there’s no secret shots. It has to be shown on TV. Unless — did we go to commercial break? — we went to commercial break, so I can’t tell you whether it went on TV or not because the audience was away. The replays keep showing. As they say, they will empty the can. They will show us every replay they’ve got related to the situation and that’s what happened there.
Q: If Seferian-Jenkins as a runner touched the pylon first, it would be a touchdown?
Corrente: No. You’ve got to keep in mind, he doesn’t have possession of the football yet. When he lost the ball short of the goal line, when he lost the ball, he re-gained control but that doesn’t mean he possesses the ball. He doesn’t possess the ball until he’s completed going to the ground now and re-controlling the ball, which he did not survive the ground, which is why it wasn’t a touchdown. Had he never lost control of the ball in the first place, you would have a touchdown. But because he lost the ball and now has to re-establish control of the ball, that was the period of time.
Q: He began losing the ball before he got to the goal line?
Corrente: Before he got to the goal line, yes.
Q: And he didn’t re-establish control until he was out of bounds?
Corrente: He was out of bounds.
Q: Did you think he touched the pylon?
Corrente: At what point he touched the pylon, it was during the process of trying to recover the ball. Even though he may have had the ball in his hands the second time, that control does not mean possession until he comes to the ground and shows firm control of the ball at that point.