There are times in NFL games when the application of rules doesn't match the eye test. Sunday's controversial overturn of a New York Jets fourth-quarter touchdown is one of those occasions.
Our eyes told us that Jets tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins caught a pass, juggled it upon contact with New England Patriots defensive backs Malcolm Butler and Duron Harmon, and then regained control while barreling into the corner of the end zone. We saw down judge Patrick Turner, standing inches away from the play, confidently raise both arms to signal a touchdown.
Next, we saw an attempt to apply rules developed in a sterile environment that can't always anticipate unusual circumstances. That's where it got incontrovertibly sticky.
As he does on every scoring play, NFL senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron (or one of his staff members) reviewed the touchdown. Replays showed that Butler punched the ball loose as Seferian-Jenkins extended toward the end zone. Seferian-Jenkins ultimately regained control.
In order to be credited with a touchdown, he needed to establish himself in bounds with the ball clearly back in his possession. Otherwise, one of the NFL's most frustrating rules would have to be implemented: A fumble out of the end zone results in a touchback.
Riveron reversed the ruling, a sign that he saw indisputable evidence that Butler jarred the ball loose before Seferian-Jenkins crossed the plane, and that Seferian-Jenkins didn't regain control until after he had stepped out of bounds. The reversal reflected the point differential in the Patriots' 24-17 victory.
Is that really what happened?
The NFL’s replay review philosophy is to stay with the call on the field unless a video angle shows, without a doubt, that a mistake was made. In this case, I didn’t see a replay that confirmed it. Perhaps another angle exists that confirms a mistake was made in the touchdown call. Regardless, there is no time limit for the NFL review process. There should never be mistakes. Clearly, Riveron and his crew saw something that we didn’t to prompt his decision.
Referee Tony Corrente, who participated in the review via a sideline tablet, told a pool reporter that a replay angle popped up at the end of the review to confirm the reversal. Seferian-Jenkins lost control of the ball a second time, according to Corrente, and he recovered only after his knee landed out of bounds. "It was pretty obvious," Corrente said.
I never saw a replay nearly that obvious. Maybe I missed it. The NFL can only use replays supplied by the broadcaster, but that doesn't mean the broadcaster has to televise all of the angles to the public.
Riveron has kept a low profile since taking over the league’s top officiating job from Dean Blandino. Even after Corrente's interview, this is one instance where a definitive explanation is merited from the executive in charge. The sooner the better.