NFL’s rules tweak wasn’t proactive enough

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Last week, the NFL announced out of the blue a tweak not to the official rule book but to the collection of “approved rulings” regarding a very obscure and specific scenario that, according to league, had never before happened in an NFL game. It was a surprising move for a league that typically waits for very obscure and specific scenarios to happen, before making the changes aimed at preventing them from happening again.

And, of course, it wasn’t that very obscure and specific scenario but a similar one that happened on Sunday night in Chicago.

Last week, the league determined that an incomplete pass that becomes via replay review a quarterback fumble that had bounced into the end zone without a clear recovery is a safety, and not simply an incomplete pass. Per a league source, that determination resulted from an end-of-season review by officiating supervisors, who tried to identify along with Al Riveron and Russell Yurk specific worst-case scenarios that rarely if ever arise.

It’s a noble effort, but as the Eagles-Bears game proved they need to look harder for rules that cry out for change.

Buried in the replay-review casebook is a provision that inexplicably keeps as an incomplete pass a play that would have been overturned to a catch if what would have become a fumble isn’t clearly recovered. Given the relative speed with which Riveron and referee Tony Corrente identified the provision in real time, it wasn’t all that obscure or hidden or unknown.

Which means that the provision should have been fixed, along with the rule that was fixed last week.

Make no mistake about it: The rule will surely be changed moving forward. In should be ruled a catch and given to the offense at the spot of the fumble.

Moreover, all players should be coached to go get the ball after every incomplete pass that could potentially be overturned by replay review. But in the event that the ensuing scrum results in no clear evidence of a recovery, it should be the offense’s ball at the spot of the fumble.

36 responses to “NFL’s rules tweak wasn’t proactive enough

  1. How about we change how quickly the officials blow a play dead when the ball is loose on the ground? None of this confusion would have happened had the officials just let the play go on.

  2. Moreover, all players should be coached to go get the ball after every incomplete pass that could potentially be overturned by replay review. But in the event that the ensuing scrum results in no clear evidence of a recovery, it should be the offense’s ball at the spot of the fumble.

    Can’t see that causing any injuries (sarcastic voice).

  3. As a Bears fan, I’m probably in the minority but I had zero problem with the ruling on that play. Spotting the ball at the spot of the “fumble” is completely unfair to the Eagles as the play was blown dead so they have no chance of recovering it.

    In the off chance that this happens again, they should just replay the down like they do for offsetting penalties.

  4. How about the ref doesn’t emphatically blow a play dead and waive “incomplete?”

    The Eagles would have clearly and easily recovered the ball and returned it for some gain if the ref didn’t blow it. Can’t imagine you’d just reward the offense for the refs incompetence.

  5. “It should be ruled a catch and given to the offense at the spot of the fumble.”

    Just why should the offense always have the benefit of the doubt?
    To me, the rule is fine as it is.

  6. The rule is fine; you don’t want a scrum of players after every incomplete pass; that’s stupid and dangerous.

  7. Fire Riveron – nothing but controversy since he took over replace with somebody who can get things correctly. After reviewing the play they should have just said the ruling on the field stands and there would be no controversy – the ball was moving a little bit during the catch and that could have been the explanation without creating the whole atmosphere that the NFL rule book and its administration is screwed up – and that goes back to the game winning play that was ruined by the bad call on Matthews.

  8. Your dead wrong Florio: The ball should not be given to the offense after the refs blow the play dead before a recovery is made. No player picked up the ball because the play was immediately called dead(whistle). THIS WAS A REFEREE ERROR! Anytime there is a bang- bang play they should err on keeping the play alive— why aren’t the refs taught this? They can always go back and correct the call if it actually was an incomplete catch. I’m beside myself that no broadcaster mentioned this, nor even their on air ref never said this. Being as the ref screwed up and blew the whistle, it should go back to the original line of scrimmage like they did.

  9. >>Moreover, all players should be coached to go get the ball after every incomplete pass that could potentially be overturned by replay review.

    I was thinking the players should have picked up the ball, but then that idiot official did before they had a chance.

  10. I wasn’t convinced by the insistence of Michaels-Collinsworth-McAulay that it WAS a catch.
    The ball wasn’t secured, and if it was, it was against LeBlanc’s arm before it came out!

  11. The problem is the NFL has all these situations that come up in games where everyone watching at home and even some former NFL refs in the booth can see over and over what happened and use their common sense to determine the outcome of a given play. Then they cite some provision in the rules that tell us all that what we know to be right, isnt right. Logic tells us, that when you review a play and admit that the receiver caught the ball and fumbles, it cannot then be a incomplete pass. Yet, thats what we have here.

    The issues are the referees, far too often, they are quick to blow a play dead. Along with coaching players to jump on every loose ball, regardless of a blown whistle….train these refs to let plays play out to the point the play is obviously concluded.

  12. Instant replays should not exist. They’re ruining the game. Officials calls, umpires calls are all part of the game.

    Although replays do allow me to use the bathroom.

  13. The rule is correct as it stands. Otherwise, every pass batted or wrestled out of a receiver’s hands or simply dropped and not clearly recovered becomes a potential “fumble” that will be “recovered” by the offense. Changing the rules in a reactionary way would only continue to make the game more lopsided in favor of offenses. Leaving it as-is makes it so that pass defense can actually lead to incompletions.

  14. WHy should the officials “let the play run out” if they thought the pass was incomplete? All of you that want every play to just run for infinity so that every possible outcome has the chance to maybe manifest; do you realize what a clown car of a mess that will be?

  15. It doesn’t make sense to reward the offense when the ref blew the whistle and waived the pass incomplete, just like any other play when a whistle blows with a fumble the play stops dead right there with forward progress or incomplete pass no matter what the replay shows. You can’t expect players to play past the whistles, that makes no sense whatsoever. In my opinion they should be teaching these zebras to swallow their whistles unless they know for absolute sure what they saw, too many premature plays are blown dead by poor reffing, but that should not punish the Eagles for actually making the play in this instance.

  16. “Make no mistake about it: The rule will surely be changed moving forward. In should be ruled a catch and given to the offense at the spot of the fumble.”
    =============================

    No, the rule SHOULD NOT be changed. Whatever the call on the field was, that should stand as the fairest outcome.

    If Miller thought it was a catch, then he should’ve made an attempt to recover the ball. Likewise, the Eagles defenders saw the play blown dead and ruled incomplete, so they didn’t have a chance to recover the fumble to gain possession. Without a clear recovery by either team, just still with whatever the original call was.

  17. I get the sense that many of the officials are not happy with/do not respect Riveron and his continuous tinkering with interpretation of the rules. That would explain not only MacAulay’s agreement with the statement that they are making stuff up on the fly during the broadcast last night, and the exodus of a number of referees at the end of last year. Neither Sunday game was distinguished by good officiating and proper review of calls by New York.

  18. How about, we just get rid of the system entirely and go back to the guys on the field officiating the game?

  19. The reason there was no clear recovery was because the ball was ruled dead. Telling players to jump on dead balls would only cause more risk for injuries. Don’t blame the players, blame the refs. To go further on this let’s say someone did pick it up anyway and started running back with it but was told to stop running because the play is dead. Where does the ball get spotted when it eventually gets ruled a fumble?

  20. arclight1972 says: “I was thinking the players should have picked up the ball, but then that idiot official did before they had a chance.”
    ==========================

    Try watching the game or the youtube replay. The ball was laying on the ground for 4-5 seconds and the players were already halfway back to the line of scrimmage before the offical picked up the ball.

    Anyways, it doesn’t matter because the recovery has to be immediate. Even the receiver didn’t bother to try, and he should’ve known better that it could’ve been ruled a catch.

  21. m8gaman says: “In my opinion they should be teaching these zebras to swallow their whistles unless they know for absolute sure what they saw, too many premature plays are blown dead by poor reffing”
    ===============================

    The offical called the pass incomplete, so the play is dead at that point anyways. Not sure what swallowing the whistle would accomplish is this case…

  22. gregbeau says: “I get the sense that many of the officials are not happy with/do not respect Riveron and his continuous tinkering with interpretation of the rules. That would explain not only MacAulay’s agreement with the statement that they are making stuff up on the fly during the broadcast last night, and the exodus of a number of referees at the end of last year.”
    =========================

    – Riveron doesn’t make the calls on the interpretation of the rules (or the rules themselves) – that comes directly from the NFL competition committee. If the officials aren’t happy, that has nothing to do with Riveron.

    – last night’s call was specifically in the NFL Instant Replay Casebook page 11. They weren’t “making stuff up on the fly” but correctly applying the rules.

    – exodus of referees? Hochuli was 67. Triplette (ESPN), Steratore (CBS) and McAulay (NBC) all retired for a cushy television gigs that don’t come up very often.

  23. The play should be dead when the whistle is blown. Inadvertent whistle. No matter the circumstance.

    If the pass was ruled incomplete and the ref is standing there blowing his whistle, why should one team get rewarded for ignoring the whistle and picking up the ball, while the other team is playing by the rules and stopping when the ref tells them to?

    Seems like a ridiculous notion.

  24. According to the Rule book:
    #1) there was a clear catch(possession) and a football move(4 steps)

    #2) there was a clear fumble, which because of the quick whistle no one recovered

    now here’s the killer and it’s right in the rule book

    #3) when there is a fumble, muffed kick/catch/loose ball and no clear recovery of the loose ball the ball goes back to the last team that had possession!

    According to those 3 rules the Bears should have gotten the ball at the Eagles 5!

    IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT’S IN THE “REPLAY-REVIEW CASEBOOK”, EVERYTHING THEY NEEDED IS IN THE RULE BOOK AND THERE WAS NO NEED TO DIG UP SOME BS OF IT HAPPENING BEFORE, IT DOESN’T MATTER, READ THE RULE BOOK AND GO BY IT, OTHERWISE WHY EVEN HAVE IT?
    So what the refs are telling us here is a “replay-review casebook” takes precedence over the 3 actual rules that are (supposedly written in stone) in the rule book to govern this type of play? All it took me is <2min and a little research to figure it out, WHY CAN'T THE HEAD OF REFFERING GET THE CALL CORRECT WITH A RULE BOOK WITH-IN 3' OF HIM?

  25. They should have just said, the ruling on the field stands (rather than “is confirmed”) to indicate there wasn’t enough video evidence to change anything. I’m not convinced there was enough visual evidence to overturn the incomplete pass call in the first place. I don’t think they needed to go to the obscure rule at all.

  26. As I had commented on another post, this was an un-recovered fumble that could have been recovered and advanced by the defense or recovered(and then spotted in that spot) by the offense. I believe that this happens more than is realized. My Pop Warner coach always told us to pick up any loose balls and let the refs make a call. In addition to that, guys lay out for catches, hit the ground, and assume they are down and do not get up and run.

  27. And the fact that on that play it was called incomplete on a play that was going to be overturned because no one picked up the orphaned ball seems out of whack.

  28. Steve Cunningham:

    The Bears were not entitled to the ball, because as the rule states, the combination of A) on field call – incomplete, 2. subsequent ball in play 3. no clear recovery, means that despite any replay decision, the outcome of the play reverts to the on field call.

  29. So basically, pile on the ball at the end of every play. You never know when a call will be overturned. I have visions of XFL kickoffs at the end of every NFL play.

  30. I thought the ruling in last nights game was the fairest outcome. Unless we want a rugby scrum of players diving on every incomplete pass despite officials blowing it dead, the only fair outcome is incomplete.

  31. Though the rule is obscure, the ball has to go to the team that last had possession. In this case, it was the offense. A time could arise where the defense intercepts but drops it after having possession but a whistle is blown and no one picks up the ball. In this case, the defense should be the beneficiary.

  32. I don’t know how you fix this. Do we want the refs to just let every play go a little longer? This will increase the amount of unnecessary scrambles for the ball, unnecessary skirmishes, and so forth.

    I think this play is a perfect example. Yes, the Eagles could have went after the ball on the ground even though the ref is blowing his whistle. Eagles player jumps on it anyway. Bears player blocks Eagles player away and pounces on the ball. 9 out of 10 times, this would result in an unnecessary roughness penalty and we’d be criticizing that player for taking cheap shots.

    They have a problem and I don’t know how to fix it.

  33. Steve Cunningham says:
    January 7, 2019 at 11:31 am
    According to the Rule book:
    #1) there was a clear catch(possession) and a football move(4 steps)

    #2) there was a clear fumble, which because of the quick whistle no one recovered

    now here’s the killer and it’s right in the rule book

    #3) when there is a fumble, muffed kick/catch/loose ball and no clear recovery of the loose ball the ball goes back to the last team that had possession!

    According to those 3 rules the Bears should have gotten the ball at the Eagles 5!
    ——————————————————–

    It says the ball goes back to the last team that had possession. It did. It does not say it goes back to that team at the spot of the catch. The play was officiated according to the rule you posted. You just didn’t interpret it correctly.

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