The NFL has many flaws at the moment, and officiating is certainly one of them. Most of the time, however, the issues arise with calls made on the field–how is that pass interference? What do you mean no personal foul? He hit him in the head! When the replays are taken to the booth (and now to NFL headquarters in New York City), most of the time they get it right. Not on Sunday.
With 8:47 left in the 4th quarter of the Jets vs. Patriots game it appeared as if Austin Seferian-Jenkins scored a touchdown to put the Jets within 3 points (pending the extra point) of the favored Pats. Seferian-Jenkins seemingly caught the ball, lost possession of it it for a second, re-grabbed it, and fell into the end zone. The play was ruled a touchdown on the field. The refs went to review it, as every scoring play automatically is. Most assumed that Seferian-Jenkins had scored and were ready to move on. CBS cut to commercial break, and Jets fans were wondering how the heck their team was only down 3 points in the 4th quarter to the New England Patriots. When the game returned, referee Tony Corrente was already on the field explaining the call, with his first coherent words being, “therefore, a fumble into the end zone results in a touchback. It will be New England ball at the 20 yard-line.” Wait, what?
There are two things to be considered with the ruling reversal. First, is it the right call in a vacuum (as in, regardless of what the initial call was)? Second, is there clear and obvious visual evidence available that warrants the change, as the NFL rulebook requires? To me, the answer to both questions is no.
Everyone can agree that Seferian-Jenkins caught the ball cleanly, and thus, we can avoid the whole “what is a catch?” debate. Everyone can also agree that Malcolm Butler punched the ball out of Seferian-Jenkins’ possession before he reached the pylon. After that, it gets murky.
For Seferian-Jenkins to be granted a touchdown after the initial fumble, he must regain control of the football while in bounds and maintain complete control throughout the process of hitting the ground. This is different than a standard runner who just has to cross the plane of the goal line and then the play is instantly over.
Now that that’s established, here’s what NFL Senior VP of Officiating Alberto Riveron said about the play in a video for NFL.com: “Does he maintain control of the football as he hits the ground and goes out of bounds? He does not. The ball is moving, he does not regain control of the football,” Riveron says as he watches the play in question on a TV next to him. By now I’ve watched the video in slow motion close to 100 times and have yet to see the ball move in Seferian-Jenkins’ hands as he rolls on the ground. Take a look for yourself, frame-by-frame:
Host Dan Hellie asks Riveron directly how they came to a no-possession conclusion, as ASJ unquestionably has either one arm or two hands on the ball at all times throughout this process. “That is not the case, Dan. The ball is moving, he never regains control of the football once he’s on the ground of out bounds.” I fail to see how anyone can determine that he does not have possession of the ball. If the call on the field had been a touchback, I would have questioned why they didn’t reverse it to a touchdown.
Maybe I’m just a homer and am looking at this play through green-colored glasses. Maybe the ball moved a fraction of an inch in Seferian-Jenkins’ hand and in a future world with microchips in the football it could be determined with absolute fact that he did not possess the ball. But this is 2017 and we do not have such technology. In order for a call to be reversed, there must be clear and convincing evidence with the videos we have. Again, look at the play and find where you can say with 100% confidence that the ball is moving. I cannot.
Former Senior VPs of Officiating Mike Pereira and Dean Blandino offered their opinions on the matter. “If it has to be clear and obvious, to me, it just didn’t seem to me that it was,” said Pereira. “It didn’t seem clear and obvious to change the call on the field, either way they ruled,” added Blandino.
When two former senior VPs of Officiating for the NFL believe there is not enough substantial evidence to overturn a ruling, it should not be changed. If it is that controversial to the experts, how can one deem that he is absolutely certain that he is right? To me, not only was there not enough evidence that it should be ruled a touchback, but there was no evidence at all.
Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com