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2020 Conference Championships

Instant replay mistake in AFC Championship Game confirmed

NFL internally acknowledges that replay shouldn’t have reviewed a play in the AFC Championship Game.



Sources tell Football Zebras that the NFL has internally acknowledged that replay incorrectly reviewed whether or not Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen stepped out of bounds before he threw a pass in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game.

Referee Bill Vinovich ruled that Allen had stepped out of bounds before he threw the pass. Replay showed that Allen’s foot was about an inch off the ground when he threw the pass. It was a tough call for Vinovich as he had to watch both Allen’s passing hand and his foot at the same time.

Centralized replay ruled that Allen was not out of bounds and it was an incomplete pass, instead of Allen out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage.

But, rules state that replay can’t review this play.

The NFL declined to comment on the error.

When Vinovich blew the whistle, the play was over. Replay cannot turn a dead ball into a live ball (with the exception of continuing action on a fumble).

Al Riveron, senior vice president of officiating, faced a similar situation when he was a referee in 2009. He got it wrong then, too.

Some on social media stated that even though the play wasn’t reviewable, getting the call right trumped the rules.

But, Mike Periera spoke in 2009 (when he was the officials’ boss and explained the replay snafu linked above), about why replay can’t turn a dead ball into a live ball.

Since we ruled the runner out of bounds, we essentially killed the play, and the play was over. So nothing that happens after that is relevant. If the receivers catch that pass and run it in for a touchdown, or the defenders intercept it, it’s a dead ball at that point [where the quarterback is] and can’t be reviewed.

So we really reviewed and reversed a play that wasn’t even reviewable.

Don’t look for any rule changes in the off season that would allow replay officials to review such plays. The NFL cannot have some players going all out while others let up. That asks for injuries. Replay also cannot extrapolate out what might have happened had the whistle not sounded.

It is one of those hard lines the rule book has to draw, even if replay can correct an obvious error. Then NFL should not let the live ball/dead ball replay genie out of the bottle.

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?"