Just before halftime of Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, Bills quarterback Josh Allen took the snap, rolled to his right, and threw the ball away an instant before stepping out of bounds at the 9-yard line. The officials mistakenly ruled him out of bounds. And then the NFL officiating department made a much bigger mistake.
The replay assistant buzzed down to the on-field referee, who then consulted with NFL head of officiating Al Riveron. They looked at the review and found that Allen had thrown the ball away before he stepped out of bounds. So they changed the call to an incomplete pass.
Big problem: That’s not a reviewable play. When a player in possession of the ball is ruled out of bounds, that’s the end of the play. Nothing that happens after that can be reviewed, even if there’s clear and obvious video evidence that the player didn’t actually step out of bounds.
This particular call didn’t really matter — the Bills ended up kicking a field goal, and it’s highly likely they also would have kicked a field goal if the ruling hadn’t been overturned — but it’s alarming that Riveron didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to review the play.
The NFL often takes criticism for its byzantine rules. When the NFL’s own head of officiating can’t keep track of the rules, it’s hard not to feel that criticism is justified.