The NFL’s official explanation for Sunday’s there-must-have-been-two-footballs play involving Cleveland and Washington is that cornerback Josh Norman somehow secured sufficient possession of a fumble before Browns running back Duke Johnson snatched it back and displayed it to the world. Johnson and his teammates don’t buy it.
“[N]obody ever touched the ball but me,” Johnson said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I’m mad that I got it and still didn’t get it.”
Thomas believes that Washington players successfully duped official Sarah Thomas.
“Will Compton was acting like he had the ball,” Thomas said. “And then Josh Norman jumps on top of him to like cradle him so like nobody else could get on top of him. I never saw the football. I just saw a guy that was acting like he had the football, which is exactly what the official saw — somebody acting like they had the football, so she gave the ball to the person that was acting like they had the football.”
That’s the only way to reasonably explain her demeanor. Thomas didn’t indicate Washington possession and then begin to unpile the players for safety reasons. She behaved in the same way we’ve seen so many officials behave over the years, sorting through the pile, determining who had the ball, and then indicating that one team had secured it.
“Basically the ball hit the ground and bounced right back to Duke, and when the Washington player tried to scoop it, he got air, but then he just — I don’t know if because I was on top of him he was laying there acting like he had the football, or because he was laying there acting like he had the football Josh Norman jumped on him and the ref saw the posture of two Redskins cradling nothing on the ground and me trying to go after that nothing that she just assumed that the Redskins must have the ball – even though Duke had the ball in his hands,” Thomas said.
“I think if she would’ve just looked over and saw Duke with the ball, it would’ve been a different story, but at that point, when you’re an official, you’ve just got to go with whatever you’re going with and just lie ’til you die at that point.”
The league has admitted that the image of Johnson holding the ball in the air while Thomas indicates that Washington recovered the fumble is a “bad visual.” It’s more than a “bad visual”; it’s a serious blunder that is being handled with an explanation no one in Cleveland, or anywhere else, is buying.