Officiating controversy has been a significant theme this NFL season and has continued into the playoffs with borderline calls impacting would-be scoring plays.
But the Philadelphia Eagles’ wild-card win over the Chicago Bears Sunday provided a call that required a deep dig into the NFL rule book.
With time running out in the first half of a 3-3 game, the Bears were driving into Eagles territory. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky looked deep to Anthony Miller on second-and-three from the 35-yard line.
Anthony Miller fumble ruled incomplete pass
Miller appeared to catch the pass before being stripped by Eagles cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc on the way to the ground around the 5-yard line. It was a bang-bang play that was ruled an incomplete pass on the field and resulted in the ball rolling on the ground unrecovered before an official picked it up.
Officials reviewed the play, which showed that Miller did appear to make the catch before fumbling the ball. NBC rules analyst and former NFL official Terry McAulay believed that it was a catch and fumble. But with nobody recovering the ball and the initial call being an incomplete pass, how would things be sorted out?
Complete pass ruled incomplete due to quirky rule
After reviewing the play, referee Tony Corrente appeared to confirm McAuley’s analysis that it was a complete pass.
“After review, the ruling on the field will stand,” Corrente said. “There was no clear recovery of the football. Therefore, the ball will go back. It will be third down.”
The call confused McAuley.
“He’s a runner at this point,” McAuley said of Miller. “I don’t know why they don’t give him the catch. If they’re going by that you have to finish it with a recovery, and you can’t change it, then I guess that’s the rule. Somebody could have recovered it. You’ve taken away a catch from Chicago.”
Officials got replay call correct
But a dive into the rulebook shows that though officials got the call wrong on the field, they made the proper replay conclusion.
Corrente acknowledged that there was a catch and a fumble by noting that “there was no clear recovery.”
But when this situation happens, and there’s no recovery, the rulebook dictates that the ruling of incomplete must stand, even with the acknowledgment that there was a valid catch.
From the casebook regarding incomplete passes reversed to catch/fumble, the third paragraph has the relevant information: pic.twitter.com/TQizOr7ZFP
— Fᴏᴏᴛʙᴀʟʟ Zᴇʙʀᴀs (@footballzebras) January 6, 2019
“If there is no video evidence of a clear recovery or the ball going out of bounds, the ruling of incomplete stands.”
The NFL Officiating Twitter account confirmed that was indeed the call that was made.
“In #PHIvsCHI, the receiver controlled the ball with two feet down & took an additional step, so it was a catch. However, because he was not down by contact & there was ‘no video evidence of a clear recovery or the ball going out of bounds’, the ruling of incomplete stands.” – AL pic.twitter.com/c0E00tOZwT
— NFL Officiating (@NFLOfficiating) January 6, 2019
So, in short. The officials got the call wrong on the field. But no Eagles or Bears player jumped on the loose ball, forcing officials to rule the catch an incomplete pass.
The Bears would go on to kick a field goal and take a 6-3 lead before the end of the half. Had an Eagles player jumped on the loose ball, that score would have never happened. Philadelphia ended up eking out a 16-15 win when Cody Parkey’s 43-yard field goal attempt bounced off the left upright and the crossbar in the game’s final seconds.
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