Chiefs-Lions scoop and score illustrates the risks of not blowing the whistle

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Last Sunday’s narrow win by the Chiefs over the Lions included a 14-point swing that happened when Detroit running back Kerryon Johnson fumbled at the goal line and Kansas City cornerback Bashaud Breeland scooped it up and ran it the other way for a touchdown.

The officials didn’t blow the whistle to kill the play, preventing what may have been an eventual decision via replay review that the Chiefs recovered the ball at their own one, but wiping out the 99-yard return. And that’s generally a good thing, given that the officials opted to whistle dead an obvious Jared Goff fumble in Week Two’s Saints-Rams game, nullifying what would have been a long touchdown return by New Orleans defensive end Cam Jordan.

But there’s a potential donut hole that arises from swallowing the whistle in moments like this. And it was illustrated by the weekly video from NFL senior V.P. of officiating Al Riveron.

“We were not sure here if the ball is loose or if the runner has control of the football when he hits the ground,” Riveron explained regarding the review of the play to determine whether Johnson was down before fumbling. “There is nothing clear and obvious — no clear and obvious visual evidence to allow us to change the ruling on the field of a fumble.”

While the evidence suggests that the ball was out, it’s possible that the play falls into the broad gulf where lack of a clean, clear shot through a scrum of bodies prevents any ruling on the field from being overturned later. If, for example, the whistle had been blown, would Riveron have been able to say that the clear and obvious visual evidence showed that Johnson had fumbled?

Thus, at a time when there’s pressure on the officials to let the play continue (indeed, Riveron congratulated the crew for not killing the play, even though there’s still a chance it wasn’t a fumble), there’s a very real risk that an accidental failure to blow the whistle won’t be fixable via replay review. There’s also a very real risk that, in cases where the visual evidence will easily overturn the ruling on the field of a fumble, someone will suffer a serious injury that would have been avoided if the officials had simply trusted their eyes and ended the action.

And maybe that’s ultimately the right answer for officials, especially when a potential fumble happens in the middle of a cluster of bodies: Make the decision as to whether the play should end or continue based on what you see now, not on what you assume Riveron may see later.

30 responses to “Chiefs-Lions scoop and score illustrates the risks of not blowing the whistle

  1. Why can’t the officials just review the entire play after the runner goes down? Whistles should not be blown at all until the ball carrier goes down. This league has to make it so much harder than it should be. Then, it shouldn’t take ten minutes to review one play. Nothing in football should be this complicated.

  2. “Make the decision as to whether the play should end or continue based on what you see now, not on what you assume Riveron may see later.”

    To think on-field officials even have time to do otherwise is ridiculous. Only Monday Morning Armchair officals with 23 replays in super slo-mo, frame-by-frame think the referees care what replays shows or if it even affects their calls.

    Things happen in tenths of a second and officials can only make the call as they see it.

  3. eroyquimby says:
    October 5, 2019 at 11:29 am
    Just don’t get mad if someone comes in late for a tackle. Can’t have it both ways.

    Its not late if the whistle isn’t blown.

  4. How about just don’t fumble? I’m a Lions fan but I call it like I see it. If he hadn’t fumbled there wouldn’t even be a discussion. Been hearing more about the play and officials than I have about Kerryon. His job is to hold on the the rock. He didn’t and it cost them. Period.

  5. The no whistle was correct.
    Usually the Refs are too quick too blow the whistle, resulting in horendous calls.
    This time they got it right, one of the rare occurances so far this season

  6. How about the Seahawks’ INT against the Rams? I get it was close, which is exactly the reason they should have let the play go instead blowing the whistle. Thompson could’ve broken the tackle for a TD, completely sealing victory.

  7. The funniest thing about this… Is that we are congratulating the officials for getting it right, after looking at a touchdown catch where a guy had both feet in and never lost control of the ball… And it never left his body, hands or touched the ground… And they decided it wasn’t a catch. That’s the only reason the lions were in possession of the ball again… The events that occurred after they merely should have kicked off to the chiefs.

  8. The problem with replay review that now they parse every micro-second down to whether someones knee touches a blade of grass. If you watch footage of games from the 60’s & 70’s, you see players bouncing on the ground at the 2-yard line and slide into the end zone and it’s a touchdown.

  9. jimmyjohns01
    Wrong. Completely different circumstance. The amazing way he got his hand under the ball and the way it popped up like it would have if bouncing off the turf made it look like it Clearly hit the turf. I’d venture that 99 out of 100 times that was seen in real time would have been called incomplete.

  10. I agree there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the fumble call. However, the Chiefs player that clearly and obviously recovered the ball was down before sliding the ball to his teammate and therefore should not have been a touchdown on review.

  11. I don’t know what Riveron was looking at. The Kerryon Johnson fumble was clear and obvious. He hadn’t hit the ground so he clearly wasn’t down, and the ball was on the ground so it clearly was a fumble.

  12. If a play isn’t clearly & obviously over, the whistle should not be blown. Don’t cloud the importance of getting a call right w protecting players from injury. Players can get hurt on any play of the game, so deciding to blow the whistle early to prevent injury should not be part of the thought process. Let a play play out until they allow for early whistles to be overturned regardless of the type of play or situation in question (i.e. any currently unreviewable play type).

  13. Instead of ruling it a TD let ply finish out and rule player down and make the Chiefs challenge and win the challenge and instead of KC getting the ball where they recovered if refs don’t blow it dead but KC now gets a TD because the refs didn’t blow it dead.

    So let play finish don’t blow it dead and then rule him down so they can’t lose. If it’s clear he wasn’t down clear recovery and TD return they get it all instead of just always giving the defense the TD and turnover every single time and making the league office every time have to find 100% evidence and a clear view of a body part down before turnover which is sometimes impossible in middle of all the bodies.

  14. The problem is consistency within the league’s officiating. Some of the crew were coming in to spot the ball which is why so many players thought the play was over and in many games that play would’ve been blown dead because his forward progress had been stopped. I saw another game where a team with no outs with time running out consistently got the play whistled dead the millisecond forward progress was stopped- in some cases well before it should’ve been blown dead because of the chance for the runner to break the tackle or fumble. Just call theses things consistently and fans won’t be nearly as angry!! In a parity league when almost every game is decided by 3-4 plays and there are 5-6 obvious botched calls per game the officiating does become the deciding factor and fans like me quit spending our money on the product.

  15. I kind of agree with the idea of letting the play go and reviewing it to get it right, but on the other hand that’ll be adding even more time to a game that ONLY has less than 10min of actual playing time but takes 3.5 to 4hrs to complete, when does it STOP?

    I for one am totally fed up with the amount of time it takes for a game to be played and haven’t watched nearly as many games this season as I usually do and I’d bet I’m not the only one! So at what cost of losing fans does “getting it right no matter how long it takes” continue? All the NFL has talked about for years was how to shorten game time and yet all they’ve done is ADD TO THE TIME IT TAKES TO PLAY A GAME! Between 3-4hrs for a game that has less then 10min of actual playing time, enough is enough.

    With the cost of tickets, concessions & parking and the time it takes out of ones day is it any wonder we’re seeing more and more empty seats at stadiums the last few seasons?
    And anyone that thinks these new TV contracts will make up for lost ticket & concession sales better pay attention to the number of networks that are refusing to pay the NFL’s increased prices for that coverage, DISH and Spectrum have already called the NFL out and refuse to pay the price the NFL wants. Those that think the NFL has an endless supply of money coming with gambling and the new TV deals better wake up, those new deals aren’t nearly as much of a “sure thing” as most people thought they would be!

  16. danglion says:
    October 5, 2019 at 11:32 am

    KC is nothing. I saw what I saw. The Lions kicked their tails.
    A couple of unforced (bad) turnovers or this could have been a laugher.


    In reality the Lions are NOTHING and have been NOTHING for 62 years. Just want to keep delusional Lions fans in check here.

  17. Hey Mike Shereck, how many touch down passes did Mahomes throw against the NOTHING Lions? Just what I thought you’d say…….. NOTHING!

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