The Texans got a gift last night from the game officials and the officiating department.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson clearly and obviously fumbled the ball with more than 1:40 remaining in the game. The two angles broadcast by FOX showed that the ball came out; the only question was whether Colts linebacker Darius Leonard had the ball in his possession when he hit the ground.
By the time the officials cleared the pile, the ball was determined to be in the possession of the Texans. With fewer than two minutes to play, the replay-review question fell within the province of the replay assistant in the stadium and/or NFL senior V.P. of officiating Al Riveron.
But no automatic review was ordered — even after the Texans inexplicably called a time out, giving the powers-that-be more time to exercise their power to engage in a full-blown review.
“There was no clear visual evidence of a recovery by the defense,” the league later announced via the NFL Officiating account on Twitter. While that very well may have been the answer to the question of whether, via replay review, the ruling on the field should have been upheld, whether a formal replay review will occur presents a different question.
There, the question isn’t whether there was clear visual evidence of a recovery by the defense. There, the question is whether there’s clear evidence that the ruling on the field was correct.
There was not. Which means that Riveron and/or the replay assistant should have stopped the game, given FOX time to scan all available camera feeds for an angle that may have shown Leonard in possession of the ball, and then announced an official and final ruling, after full and complete vetting of the visual evidence.
It’s possible that the officials determined that the offense retained possession because the ball was in the simultaneous possession of Watson and Leonard. But if Leonard had secured possession before Watson managed to get his hands on the ball at the same time, by rule the Colts would have had the ball.
Regardless, we don’t know whether Leonard had possession because Riveron and/or the replay assistant failed to call for a full replay review. Someone should have; it was a key moment in a close game and the outcome may have been changed if the Colts had gotten the ball back.
Besides, what’s the harm in doing it? Even if Colts fans (and/or those who picked the Colts to win, either for satisfaction or money) didn’t like the final outcome, they at least would have felt like the possibility of a fumble recovered by Leonard wasn’t given short shrift.
And that’s a very important aspect of persuading folks that there’s both competence and integrity in the broader officiating function.