Patriots

Patriots

By now, you know. The officials working the Monday Night Football game between the Seahawks and Lions missed a call in the final moments that may have helped determine the outcome. 

Seattle safety Kam Chancellor punched the ball out of Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson's hands and linebacker KJ Wright then slapped it out of the end zone with his right hand. The play resulted in a touchback, allowing the Seahawks to bleed the clock and escape with a 13-10 victory. 

Soon after the game, it was revealed that Wright's nudging of the football out of bounds should have been deemed illegal and granted the Lions possession inside the Seahawks one-yard line. 

"You can't bat the ball in any direction in the end zone, either end zone," NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino told the NFL Network after the game. "KJ Wright batted the football. That is a foul for an illegal bat. The back judge was on the play. In his judgement it wasn't an overt act so he didn't throw the flag. In looking at the replays, it did look like a bat. The enforcement would be Detroit would keep the ball at the spot of the fumble."

In his explanation of what happened, Blandino said more than once that after looking at the replays, it's relatively clear that the call was missed. In so doing he highlighted an issue with the NFL rule book: A replay could not have helped the officials change that game-altering call because, by rule, Wright's "bat" is not a reviewable play. 

 

"It's not reviewable in replay," Blandino said. "That is specific in the replay rule. You can't rule on an illegal bat in replay because it is a judgment call. It's an intentional act, and you can't rule on that intent. That's something that has to be called on the field."

Blandino added: "There is subjectivity to it. The official has to see it, and then he has to rule whether it was intentional. It could be a muff, it could just hit the player and bounce out of bounds. He has to make all of those decisions in that split-second that he has on the field. He felt it wasn't an intentional, overt act and that's why he didn't throw the flag. It certainly is subjective."

Obviously, not all officials are always equipped to make correct decisions in those split-second instances. They're human. Calls get missed every week and in every game. 

The question is why, with the replay technology that is available at every NFL stadium, are there certain plays where that technology is ignored? Blandino admitted that the replays showed Wright committed a penalty. Why shouldn't the officials have access to those replays to help them make the correct call?

If Bill Belichick and the Patriots had their way, that kind of call would have been eligible to be reviewed. Belichick has stated on multiple occasions that all calls should be reviewable to avoid situations like the one that occurred on Monday night. 

The Patriots proposed a rule change to the Competition Committee this offseason that would have expanded the use of replay, which was a similar proposal to the change the team suggested a year ago.

Belichick's proposals have not called for more challenges -- each coach would be allowed two with an opportunity for a third if the first two challenges were successful -- but they have called for more opportunities to right officials calls that appear to be wrong.

Belichick explained his rationale in an interview with Sirius XM Radio last year after his proposal was voted down.

"It wouldn’t give the coach any more challenges," Belichick said. "It would just give him a chance to challenge a play he thought was ruled incorrectly. In the grand scheme of things, I think what we all want is to get the play right and for the best team to win and for the game not to be decided by a missed call. To not have the opportunity to correct that type of play, it just doesn’t seem like it’s the right way to do it.

"We had a situation this year where we added another exception to the replay rule because of a play that came up during the season, and it seems like that’s kind of the way it goes -- something happens, and then, we have something else to challenge or make another play challengeable that wasn’t in the past, and we’re just going to keep adding to that. I’d just like to clean it up and have a coach have two challenges, and if he gets them right, he gets a third, and that’s it. He can use it on whatever play he wants."

 

Belichick may prove prescient if the Competition Committee decides to make the "illegal bat" play reviewable when rules changes are considered after the season. In his conversation with the NFL Network, Blandino didn't rule out that possibility. 

"We look at all of these situations at the end of a game and decide whether it's reviewable or not," Blandino said. "This will be something that the Competition Committee takes a look at. Again, we try to stay away from subjective fouls, this being one of them, similar to pass interference or offensive holding. That's why it hasn't been reviewable.

"I think it's fair to say that the committee will look at this, just like it will look at other situations throughout the year and decide if we need to add it to the list of reviewable plays."