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League defends decision not to review Evans non-catch

Baltimore Ravens' Evans has the ball stripped from him by New England Patriots' Moore in the end zone during the fourth quarter of the NFL's AFC Championship football game in Foxborough

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Lee Evans (L) has the ball stripped from him by New England Patriots free safety Sterling Moore in the end zone during the fourth quarter of the NFL’s AFC Championship football game in Foxborough, Massachusetts, January 22, 2012. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)


Shortly before Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff did his best Gary Anderson impersonation (to the chagrin of Matt Birk), Ravens receiver Lee Evans had the ball in his hands, in the end zone. But Patriots defensive back Sterling Moore knocked the ball out of Evans’ hands, and the ruling on the field was that the would-be touchdown pass was incomplete.

Though it wasn’t a scoring play, fewer than two minutes remained in the game. Thus, the decision (or not) to review the play was to be initiated by the replay assistant in the booth. Even though the slow-motion angle shown by CBS seemed to suggest that it may have been a catch, the replay assistant didn’t instruct referee Alberto Riveron to take a look via the on-field portable TV on wheels.

As to whether a catch was made, the standard is simple. From Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 3: “If a player controls the ball while in the end zone, both feet, or any part of his body other than his hands, must be completely on the ground before losing control, or the pass is incomplete.”

There’s no Calvin Johnson component. No requirement of a football move. Possession plus two feet down equals a catch, and a touchdown.

So why didn’t the replay assistant direct Riveron to take another look? Absent indisputable visual evidence that the call on the field was correct, the replay assistant must tell the referee to look for indisputable visual evidence to overturn it.

The league disagrees. “The ruling on the field of an incomplete pass was confirmed by the Instant Replay assistant, correctly, and as a result, there was no need to stop the game,” the league said in a statement forwarded to PFT by spokesman Michael Signora. “The receiver did not get his second foot down in the end zone with possession, and as a result, it was an incomplete pass.”

Former V.P. of officiating and current FOX rules analyst Mike Pereira expressed a similar sentiment via text message to PFT. “Clearly not a catch,” Pereira said. “Ball coming out before second foot clearly down. . . . No need to review it because it was clearly incomplete.”

But where’s the harm in taking a look at the play? The left foot may have been down a nanosecond before the ball was dislodged. Why not have Riveron decide whether or not that was the case? Moreover, a different camera angle may have shown that Evans had the ball before his left foot previously left the ground. (There’s no doubt that the right foot was down while Evans had the ball.)

It could be that the replay assistant erred on the side of not giving Riveron a chance to make what could have been another Bill Leavy-style error. Either way, under the league’s standard for initiating a booth review, we think a booth review should have been initiated. And if it had been initiated, Riveron would have been faced with a decision that wouldn’t have been quite as easy as the league seems to think it would have been.