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Torbert crew fails to enforce forward-fumble rule

Referee Ron Torbert and his crew failed to enforce the fourth down fumble rule at the end of the first half.



In the Week 11, Thursday Night Football game between the Steelers and Titans, referee Ron Torbert and his crew failed to enforce the fourth down fumble rule at the end of the first half.

With under a minute to go, Antonio Brown caught a pass, was hit and fumbled the ball at the 41-yard line, moments after the above photo was taken. Teammate Martavis Bryant recovered at the 30-yard line (video). NFL rules state that with under two minutes to go in the half or on fourth down, if the offense fumbles the ball forward, only the fumbling player can recover the ball and advance. If a teammate recovers the forward fumble, the offense can keep the ball, but it is returned to the spot of the fumble. (The play is whistled dead upon recovery, which was a moot point on this play.)

The NFL put this rule in after the 1978 season as a result of the Holy Roller play.

The Steelers should have gotten the ball back at the 41-yard line. Instead, the Steelers got the forward-fumble yardage and had a first down at the 30-yard line. The Steelers converted a 50-yard field goal to end the half. Would they have tried a longer field goal?

This is significant miss by the officiating crew. The covering officials should have thrown their blue bean bag to mark the spot of the fumble. That way, they would have known to return the ball to the spot of the fumble. It is unclear if any officials dropped a bean bag at the 41.

What is more disappointing, any of the seven officials should have remembered the forward-fumble rule. Any one of them could have stopped the game before the next play and questioned the spot. The NFL expects all officials to know the rules and it expects any official from referee to raw rookie to stop the game if they see something amiss. 

This is called saving the crew.

Unfortunately for the crew, it is a downgrade for all. In light of this error, you can be sure all NFL crews will emphasize crew saving calls this week and for the rest of the season.

Photo: Pittsburgh Steelers

Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"