Week 1: Texans at Patriots (video)
It was a spectacular double-team catch by Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski for 28 yards. It appeared that Gronkowski might not have had a clean catch, but it was not something that Texans coach Bill O’Brien could challenge. With less than 2 minutes on the clock in the second quarter, all replay reviews are the responsibility of the replay official.
Referee Tony Corrente, in a postgame interview with a pool reporter, said there was a delay with the replay command post at NFL headquarters in New York. When asked who was responsible for initiating the replay review, Corrente said, “It is New York. The situation was that New York did get back to us. However, unfortunately, they didn’t get to the game officials on the field until after the play had already started.”
That is partially correct. According to a league source who is familiar with the replay operations, “Corrente described the procedure incorrectly.”
Rule 15-2-2 explains the replay procedure after the two-minute warning thusly, with newly added language underlined:
A Replay Review will be initiated by a member of the Officiating department from a location in the League office or a Replay Official from a Replay Booth
While this seems to put the league office into the mix for responsibility, it doesn’t quite work that way. Senior vice-president of officiating Al Riveron and the centralized replay designees have been folded into the process to trigger reviews for ejecting players. While they still have the authority to call for any review allowable under the rules, it is the replay official that has primary responsibility for all non-ejection situations.
If Corrente is correct that it was a call from New York to review the play, it means that Corrente’s replay official, Lou Nazzaro, was remiss in initiating a review before the next snap. Corrente adds, “They got to us on the field, but the play had already developed. It had started.” At the point where there is a legal snap, replay cannot change any aspect of the previous play, no matter how egregious the error may be.
In this case, there is enough for replay to at least take another look.
It’s not clear that there would be a reversal, although that does not absolve the responsibility for calling for a review. The ball was sightly bobbled, and it appears the ground may have assisted in the catch, which would have made it incomplete. A receiver who has established a firm grip on the ball can allow the ball to touch the ground, as long as control is continually established. The bobble casts some doubt on control. But, given the centralized replay issues of last year, there are going to be more marginal calls that stay with the call on the field.
Referee Tony Corrente postgame interview
Q: Who would be responsible for initiating that review?
Corrente: It is New York. And the situation was that New York did get back to us. However, unfortunately, they didn’t get to the game officials on the field until after the play had already started.
Q: OK, so just processing what you said, they got to back you…
Corrente: They got to us on the field, but the play had already developed. It had started.
Q: OK. Then you can’t challenge after the snap?
Corrente: You can’t challenge after the snap, no.
Q: If Bill O’Brien throws a challenge flag in that instance, would he be penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct . . .
Corrente: Because the play had already developed?
Q: No, because there’s no throwing the flag under two minutes?
Corrente: Yes, he would have been penalized in that situation.
Image: Eric J. Adler/Patriots