The AFC title game changed dramatically when, after the Ravens opened an eight-point lead on the first snap of the fourth quarter, a run by Pats running back Stevan Ridley resulted in a helmet-to-helmet hit that seemed to knock him out on his feet, causing him to lose the ball on his way to the ground.
But did the ball come out before or after his leg landed flat on the turf after an awkward, twisting flip?
Referee Bill Leavy, who reviewed the play via the on-field replay booth, says it did.
“What I saw was the receiver was going to the ground, had both legs off the ground, no body part was on the ground,” Leavy told a pool reporter after the game, via ESPNBoston.com. “The ball hit his knee and dislodged from his hand before the rest of his body hit the ground, therefore it was a fumble and we confirmed it.”
Though the presence of the term “receiver” is odd because it was a running play (there’s a chance the error wasn’t Leavy’s), the point is that the ball was indeed knocked loose when it struck Ridley’s leg, which happened before Ridley’s leg landed on the ground.
Not mentioned by Leavy was the helmet-to-helmet nature of the hit that knocked the ball loose. That’s because helmet-to-helmet hits against runners aren’t prohibited. Though some believe the rules in this regard are inconsistent or vague, the NFL’s goal is to ensure that players not able to try to avoid a helmet-to-helmet hit shouldn’t be subjected to a helmet-to-helmet hit. That’s why the rule applies only to players in a defenseless posture, like quarterbacks throwing a pass and receivers just after catching one.
Some may disagree with the reasoning, but that’s the rule — and that’s why Ridley was fair game for a helmet-to-helmet hit. And for the fumble that resulted when the hit knocked him sufficiently loopy to lose control of the ball.