The Patriots appeared to catch a break during the NFC Championship Game when Tom Brady fumbled on a quarterback sneak and Steelers nose tackle Javon Hargrave came out of the pile with it, but the officials ruled it Patriots ball. But the NFL says there’s no replay that can show whether the officials got the call right or wrong, and so they had to stick with the call on the field.
NFL V.P. of Officiating Dean Blandino said in a video released by the league that coming out of the pile with the ball isn’t proof of recovering the ball.
“Brady takes the ball, he sneaks for a first down, the ball is going to come loose,” Blandino said. “Eventually, Pittsburgh is going to come out of the pile. . . . Pittsburgh 79 does have the football. But that is not evidence of a clear recovery.”
As the NFL sees it, it’s possible that the Patriots actually recovered Brady’s fumble and the Steelers only grabbed it after the play was blown dead.
“If we don’t have video evidence of the Pittsburgh player actually controlling and possessing the ball before the pile ensues, we can’t overturn the ruling on the field,” Blandino said. “In that pile, the officials are telling the players, we’ve ruled down by contact. One player may have it, he may listen to the officials and let go, and another player may grab it.”
On the CBS broadcast, Jim Nantz said that referee Terry McAulay had announced a clear recovery by the Steelers. Blandino, however, says McAulay was just announcing that the Steelers were challenging that they had clearly recovered the ball. McAulay was not saying that had been the ruling on the field.
“Pittsburgh challenged that there was a fumble that that they clearly recovered the ball, and that is what the referee announced,” Blandino said. “The referee announced that Pittsburgh challenged that there was a fumble and that they clearly recovered. He wasn’t saying that the officials on the field ruled a clear recovery for Pittsburgh. The officials on the field ruled down by contact. They didn’t rule on the recovery. There was some confusion as to the announcement, as to the referee saying clear recovery, but all he was saying was what Pittsburgh thought the ruling on the field should have been.”
So while the officials wrongly ruled Brady down by contact when he had actually fumbled, in the NFL’s view, there wasn’t a clear mistake that replay could have fixed.