N’Keal Harry ruling was changed by new partial sky judge procedure, but was it the right call?

New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills
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The NFL has begun using the modified sky judge procedure this year, with the replay official and the league office now permitted to consult with the game officials on several specific, objective dynamics of rule application and game administration. That process was utilized last night to reverse an on-field finding that Patriots receiver N'Keal Harry did not touch a first-half punt by the Bills.

Although the apparent intervention of the replay official or the league office causes eyebrows to rise in suspicion that the powers-that-be are overstepping their bounds, it’s absolutely permitted for consultation to happen for specific aspects of the game, including penalty enforcement, the proper down, the spot of a foul, the game clock, possession of the ball, completion of a pass, interception of a pass, touching of a loose ball, boundary line, goal line, or end line, the location of the football or a player in relation to a boundary line, the line of scrimmage, the line to gain, or the goal line, or whether a player was down by contact.

Before such consultation can overturn the ruling on the field, clear and obvious evidence must be present to justify the change. The goal is to permit real-time assistance on an issue that, if there were a full-blown replay review, the ruling on the field would have been easily reversed.

As to the muff by Harry, the NFL has confirmed that the on-field officials did indeed receive assistance. Which means that the replay official or the league office concluded that clear and obvious visual evidence existed to support the conclusion that the ball touched Harry.

But is there clear and obvious evidence that the ball touched Harry? During the Manningcast, Eli suggested that perhaps the wind caused the ball to move, which is theoretically possible. As a practical matter, however, the question is whether clear and obvious evidence exists to support that the ball touched Harry’s helmet.

The ball definitely moved. However, a similar situation happened in 2015, during a game between the Bears and the Seahawks. During a punt, replay review explored whether the ball struck the leg of a Seattle player. In a weekly video, then-V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino explained that, to overturn the ruling on the field, there must be clear and obvious evidence that the ball actually touched the player.

“Does this ball really jump that far to the right where we think the ball clearly hit his leg?” Blandino said at the time. “It’s reasonable to assume that it hit his leg. But, again, we cannot make a decision based on the ball changing direction. We have to see clear evidence that the ball absolutely touched his leg.”

Said Eli last night, accurately: “You can’t tell if it hit. You see the ball move, but you can’t see it hit anything, I don’t think.”

Added Peyton: “The ball is the same color as the facemask, and so you can’t see [if] it his the facemask.”

In the haste to resolve this one without a full-blown replay review, whoever made the decision possibly forgot that, in a case like these, there must be clear and obvious that the ball touched the player. Movement of the ball, without actual visual evidence of contact, isn’t supposed to be enough. Last night, it apparently was.

38 responses to “N’Keal Harry ruling was changed by new partial sky judge procedure, but was it the right call?

  1. Just get the call right without the complications.It’s not as hard as the NFL wants us to believe. I didn’t like it, but it was the right call on Harry.

  2. Much later, there was a replay that made it look a lot clearer that the ball hit N’Keal Harry’s helmet. Even during regular replay, it looked to me like it hit the helmet, so I wasn’t upset at the final call, even as a Patriots fan. I was upset at N’Keal Harry for his boneheaded play. He did some excellent blocking on the o-line, but that was a really bad special teams blunder.

  3. I’m mad that Harry was even out there, and then not once, but twice tripped over his own feet first thinking about fielding the punt and a second time trying to get out of the way of the punt. Frankly, we deserved to have the call go against us with all the bumbling around on the play.

    I’d like to see them utilize replay on that atrocious roughing the passer call

  4. As a Pats’ fan, I felt it was absolutely the right call. The evidence is clear and convincing that the ball brushed the helmet.

    Now let’s talk about the phantom sideline roughing call…

  5. Whether or not it hit Harry’s facemask was a lot of things BUT clear and obvious wasn’t among them. Thankfully the call didn’t impact the outcome of the game.

  6. Between this one and the terrible personal foul call against Myles Bryant, Sean McDermott have expressed how fortunate the Bills were to even be in the game rather than resorting to snarky remarks and citing stats aimed at discrediting the Pats.

  7. You don’t need to go back to 2015. It happened in the Jaguars – Dolphins game when the ball supposedly didn’t touch Agnew’s finger. It was challenged and upheld and there was just as much evidence he touched the ball as there was for Harry.

  8. It took a replay or two but it was obvious the ball touched his helmet. One angle was pretty damning. The ball changed spin and trajectory. Back and to the left, Jerry. That is one magic pigskin.

  9. Everybody always has a bias for their own team against the refs, and I am no AFCE fan. But the officiating was not good last night and favored the Bills significantly. The roughing the passer call was absurd and I watched this replay a few times and agree that there was no way to conclude with certainty it actually hit his face mask. It may probably have, but that isn’t the standard. And the replay makes it obvious that nobody could conclude it obviously hit him!

  10. The rear view showed no touch. It was possible from the front view. They showed the rear view ONCE and the exclusively showed the front view. I wonder why they did that.

  11. “Maybe” isn’t supposed to be enough to change a ruling on the field. And the best you can say, after watching the review, is maybe it grazed Harry’s helmet. Considering that that decision set the Bills up for their only TD in a close, low-scoring game, it was a pretty serious overstepping of bounds.

  12. NewEngland has always had to deal with a different set of rules when it comes to fair & established rule enforcement when it comes to the Leagues involvement…..

  13. Goodell was ready to cheat last night. The constant holding by Spencer Brown and the “roughing” call on runner Josh Allen with a love tap out of bounds were a joke.

  14. The chances that the wind blew the ball away from his face at that exact moment seem astronomical.

    The ball was heading towards his face and then changed directions. That’s the basic standard we use for a fumble in a situation like this. Imo this was called right.

    Now the hit out of bounds on a player that was never out of bounds, they need to change that rule if it was called correctly. That is a terrible call. One that can’t be challenged by the way unlike the fumble.

  15. N’Keal shouldn’t have been put into that situation in the first place! Fielding punts is not his gig!
    Why in the world was he out there —in 50 mph winds— to field the first punt of his career?
    I thought that that was more of a boneheaded play by Belichick than Harry.
    Other than that, that was one of the most enjoyable games I’ve ever watched. Old-school football.

  16. So, the ball moves, and changes direction, but there’s no clear and obvious evidence? We can’t even agree on what what’s obvious in the moment? This is the path the NFL has brought us down. The roughing the passer call was wrong, agreed, that was weak. The holding call in the endzone that wasn’t called? Equally as weak, Knox was being mugged. Horrible officiating is part of any NFL game now, unfortunately, the hope is it just evens out throughout the course of the game.

  17. The league was doing everything to help the Bills win the game but their ineptness in coaching, how stop the run when you know the other team has zero intention to throw the ball, and GM by not having a bad weather capable team, both lines.

    BB’s only real mistake was having anybody back to receive punts, can’t trust them to just get out of the way. The call on Harry wasn’t obvious especially with the wind this shows how much the league was trying to help and the diving out of bounds QB so we should throw a flag on defense just because.

  18. Yes, the ball grazed Harry’s helmet – barely – and the right call was made. They say that football is a game of inches but on that play it was a game of millimeters.

  19. This is where the call on the field is so important… there was no “clear” evidence either way. The call on the field was no touch so that call should have stood. Had the call been that it hit the facemask then I would have been fine with that also. Over ruling a call on the field should require an obvious mistake in the call… this play was just not that simple. I much would have preferred them over ruling that bogus late hit on Allen when he was reaching for a first down and had not yet gone out of bounds…. that was a stupid call and kept the Bills in the game

  20. I’m a Pats fan, and I thought it was obvious that the ball hit Harry’s helmet – that was the right call.

    I was excited back when we drafted Harry, but he’s been a major disappointment – did some good work on blocking last night, but otherwise, more often than not he is out of position on the field.

    I’m betting (hoping) that Bill is not going to have him field punts or kickoffs again.

  21. Harry’s was a right call. The sideline roughing (Allen) call was another story as Allen leaped off from the field and was still in mid-air when he was “roughed.”. You don’t need any Sky Judge for that bad call.

  22. That ball changed a good amount. Wind does not alter motion like it did on that muff. Not sure what the hollerin is about…

  23. Personally, I think its pretty clear it rubbed his face mask, so I have no problem with the call. I also have no problem with the assistance “from up above”. The call that I found ridiculous, and based on the delay before the flag ever got thrown, was when Allen scrambled to his right (with help from Jamie Collins getting pulled hard from behind in the middle of the field, uncalled) and at the first down marker Allen jumps, and gets pushed out of bounds. Literally minutes later, a flag comes out for unnecessary roughness. It lead to 3 points.

    Interestingly this article is saying that the Harry muff shouldnt have been, which takes 7 points from Buffalo. And if Allen didnt get that lame gift (almost as if someone wanted to ensure Buffalo got points… hmmmm), the Bills get shutout in that beat down

  24. “Interestingly this article is saying that the Harry muff shouldnt have been, which takes 7 points from Buffalo. And if Allen didnt get that lame gift (almost as if someone wanted to ensure Buffalo got points… hmmmm), the Bills get shutout in that beat down”

    Why do Pats fans keep saying this, like the Bills didn’t fumble, miss a FG, have 3 opps in the red zone that fell short, etc.

    BOTH TEAMS MADE MISTAKES. It’s meaningless to say “if we have played perfectly, we would have done better.” Any team can say that, any game.

  25. Also, NE fans – you’re not really allowed to support the tuck rule call, and oppose the roughing call on Allen. Both were according to the rules.

    Both are probably bad rules – but they were both consistent w/ the rules.

  26. You just don’t see muffs out there in the field that often anymore. They used to be much more prevalent.

  27. The review worked perfectly.

    They got it right (n my opinion)and didn’t take forever to determine it.

    I wish all reviews reached decisions that fast.

  28. This has to be a joke…the ball touched his helmet and changed direction clear as day. I enjoy the ManningCast but much of it is just Peyton and Eli saying whatever pops into their heads, watching the game in real time mind you. I think I’ll side with the sky judge over the Manning’s speculation.

  29. I thought this play was a good example of how officiating should work. Obvious missed call, corrected automatically, took 20 seconds.

    Unfortunately, this is hardly the norm. Usually they botch a call, review it for 5 minutes and then come to a conclusion that every single person sitting at home can see is completely wrong.

  30. If you need replay to identify there was even a possible touch to begin with, it likely wasn’t “clear” nor “obvious”. Anybody who wants to suggest a touch could have been determined in real-time has the right to do so (you aren’t seeing the angle\direction of the ball adjust ever so slightly without replay, sorry). Even if it that suggestion would be absolutely incorrect. Personally I didn’t see enough to warrant an overturn but what bothers me the most is that if it was that “clear and obvious” why not rely on the challenge? That said, the Pats had an opportunity to stop the Bills from getting the TD and failed. So it is what it is.

    Knox mugging in the end zone … lol Knox had the ball in his hands. Philips knocked it out. Mugging indeed. The play is on NFL highlights. I would suggest replaying it to refresh your recollection.

  31. billsrthefuture says:
    December 7, 2021 at 4:04 pm
    Also, NE fans – you’re not really allowed to support the tuck rule call, and oppose the roughing call on Allen. Both were according to the rules.

    Both are probably bad rules – but they were both consistent w/ the rules.


    Not really. With Allen in the field of play it’s called a tackle. That’s the difference.

  32. “Not really. With Allen in the field of play it’s called a tackle. That’s the difference.”


    The officials made the right call according to the rules. It was a ticky-tack kind of call – but it wasn’t a phantom call. Again, according to the rules.

  33. If the NFL wanted to remove subjectivity on this kind of incident, place contact sensors on the helmet and chip the football, so that if the ball makes any kind of contact with the helmet the fact is confirmed.
    Also to solve whether the ball crossed the goal line using a chip on the ball that reports the orientation and position of the ball within the field of play, and the use of in-stadium, stationary, millimeter-wave, differential GPS, along with contact sensors on the players uniform, would remove the potential for missing whether or not, on a goal line play, the ball crossed the goal before the players knee or other body part hits the ground.
    This would be especially handy during one of those scrum plays where there are bodies all around the player and a video review cannot tell if the score occurred or not.

  34. Pats fan here. Watched game with 7 other Pats fans. ALL thought football clearly hit face mask when seeing replay. Good call. Applauded fast decision.
    All wondered why Harry was back there in the first place. Big mistake by Belichick (the genius).

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