To cap a game-opening drive that saw the Chargers playing the role of red-hot serrated Ginsu blade to Kansas City’s room-temperature generic margarine, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers found tight end Antonio Gates for a 14-yard touchdown pass.
Every score is now reviewed in the booth. If the replay assistant sees anything to suggest that the ruling on the field should be overturned, the replay assistant must buzz down to the referee for an on-field look-see.
Here, Gates caught the ball inside the one, near the pylon. As soon as the ball hit his hands, safety Eric Berry hit Gates, who turned as he started to fall and pushed the ball with his right hand only over the goal line.
But Berry successfully dragged Gates down and as he fell he squeezed the ball with his right hand, it popped out of his control, and clearly struck the ground as he was landing.
The explanation could be that Gates caught the ball in the field of play and made a “football move” by pushing the ball with one hand over the plane, ending the play before he lost control. Still, it all happened too quickly for the replay assistant to determine that the call indisputably was correct. At a minimum, then, it should have been reviewed by referee Alberto Riveron on the field.
It’s entirely possible that the replay assistant opted not to open Pandora’s Box by hitting the buzzer. Referees have struggled in the past with the rules regarding the completion of a pass while the player is going to the ground and performing a “second act,” with Riveron once incorrectly overturning a correct ruling on the field that a pass was incomplete and giving the Jaguars a touchdown.
Though the procedures likely required a full-blown, on-field review in this case, the replay assistant may have decided to protect Riveron from making another mistake by overturning a call that, while close, probably was correct.
UPDATE 9:00 p.m. ET: NBC officiating consultant Jim Daopoulos says via Twitter that, in his view, the pass should have been ruled incomplete.