A wording change in the rules would not reverse the touchdown that was controversially taken away from Jets tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins last season.
The play in question had Seferian-Jenkins, who had clear possession and had completed the catch process, running toward the end zone. As he approached the goal line, he lost his grip on the ball and quickly clutched it. This was not apparent during the live play, but was pretty clear from an end zone camera on replay. Even though he did not drop the ball by any means, the momentary loss of control is by rule (if not statistically) a fumble. Seferian-Jenkins had to establish possession once he regained control of the ball, which includes getting two feet down in bounds.
Seferian-Jenkins got his second foot down out of bounds, so he does not regain possession by rule. In fact, it makes the ball out of bounds, and because this carried into the end zone, by rule this was a touchback. Not only was the touchdown taken off the board, the Jets surrendered the ball.
Rule 3-2-5 has the definition of a fumble, and the new text for 2018 is underlined:
A Fumble is any act, other than passing, successful handing, or legally kicking the ball, which results in a loss of player possession. It is not a fumble if the player immediately regains control of the ball. The use of the term Fumble always means that the ball was in possession of a player when the act occurred.
Referee Tony Corrente was part of the discussion in replay that correctly ruled the ball a fumble in 2017, and part of the discussion to make a similar play a touchdown in 2018.
“A group of officials — I was one of them — were allowed to make suggestions about rule changes. And, I actually put this one up,” Corrente said during a media session on the new rules at Jets training camp.
This rule applies only to a player who already was in possession of the ball. (The rules reference the “runner” which includes players who have caught a pass and completed the catch process.) This change does not apply to a receiver who is securing a pass by a double-clutch of the ball.
Corrente said, “If I’m a runner, and I momentarily lose control — I lost it and grabbed it — it’s still your ball.”
This would seem to eliminate the “loose ball” rulings that are only readily apparent in replay at minimum. Situations where the ball pops out followed by a reach to grab the ball would be a judgement call by the covering official. Basically, if the loss and regain of control is a “bang-bang” play — a broad officiating term that verbally demonstrates the quick succession of two events — then possession is deemed to have been maintained throughout. In a replay review, such a determination would have the video play at full speed, as slow-motion replays exaggerate the time element.