EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Don’t hate the call, Jets fans, hate the rule.
The Austin Seferian-Jenkins touchdown that was overturned and became a death-blow dealing touchback on Sunday is the latest – and perhaps greatest – example of this rule that PFT’s Mike Florio calls the worst in the NFL.
Seferian-Jenkins caught a second-and-goal pass in the right flat with 8:31 left and was ready to plow into the end zone when Malcolm Butler and others converged and knocked jarred the ball loose. The initial ruling was a touchdown which would have made the score 24-21. When the play was reviewed it was determined (correctly, it seems) that a loose ball that crosses the pylon and goes out of bounds – even if it’s close to being secured by the player – results in a touchback.
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The unusual aspect of this is that the ball wasn’t ever “fumbled” in the sense we’re used to – a ball bouncing on the ground. Full possession was merely lost. But there’s nothing in the books differentiating between losing possession, crossing the goal line and then landing out of bounds prior to fully repossessing the ball and merely bobbling it.
When asked about the play, Seferian-Jenkins was realistic about the result.
“It’s a fumble and a touchback,” he said. “That’s what it is. It’s not like I’m taking the high road, I’m just saying what the facts are. I don’t think it does anything for me to come up here and blast the official or blast the rule. The rule is the rule. They called it. It is what it is. I have to do a better job of having better ball security so it doesn’t happen again. If I catch the ball and run through both of them and don’t fumble, then that’s what it is.”
“This has been discussed in the past,” Blandino said “It will continue to be discussed [and] compared to the fumble forward out of bounds in the field of play where the offense maintains possession. That has been part of the discussion. But again the Competition Committee has not felt compelled to change this rule. And I’m sure they’ll discuss it again and we’ll see where they land after the season.
“Because the goal line is involved — and this is a consistent application of the impetus rule,” Blandino continued. “Impetus is the force that puts the ball into an end zone. So if a team provides the impetus that puts a ball into their opponent’s end zone . . . then they are responsible for it. They’re responsible for it. And if the ball gets out of bounds through the end zone then it is a touchback.”
Anywhere else on the field, a ball fumbled out of bounds is returned to the team that last possessed it at the spot it was last possessed. Blandino acknowledged the harshness of the result, saying, That may seem like an egregious penalty but again, think about it, they put the ball into their opponent’s end zone. If it’s not fourth down or inside two minutes, if they recover it, it’s a score. So that’s potentially a big play, so the penalty for not recovering it . . . has to be big as well. That’s why it’s a touchback. That’s consistent with other loose balls that go into an opponent’s end zone. Kicks, punts, fumbles, backward passes.
“You’re responsible for putting the ball into your opponent’s end zone, you’re responsible for recovering it,” Blandino said. “If you don’t and it goes out of bounds or the defense recovers, they’ve defended their goal line, and they get a touchback.”
The Patriots – to borrow Blandino’s term – defended their goal line. And Butler knew when the play unfolded that they had.
“When Malcolm came off the field, the first thing he told me was that the ball was out,” said Bill Belichick. “Malcolm obviously had a real good look at it and was sure it was out. It was the first thing he told me. That’s what the rule is and that’s why ball possession is so important down there.”
Asked about the ruling after the game, Jets coach Todd Bowles said, “We had other plays in the game that we could have made to make up for that. I’m not gonna blame this game on one play.”
Jets quarterback Josh McCown, who threw for 354 yards, said, “It’s frustrating because you fight back into a game like that and to have it go that way on a call is frustrating but the refs are doing the best job they can. … That rule, just by losing possession and it being a touchback, it’s hard for me to see why (that should be the outcome). It’s not like (the Patriots) gained possession so it’s a difficult rule to understand.”
Difficult to understand, painful to the Jets in application. The Patriots are in first place in the AFC East.