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.