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NFL admits officials, replay assistant screwed up on 49ers fumble

Eagles Cowboys Football

An instant replay both is shown during an NFL football game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012 in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)


During the first quarter of Sunday’s 49ers-Patriots game, San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick hit Delanie Walker with a pass, and New England’s Steve Gregory hit Walker just as he grabbed the ball, knocking it loose. Aqib Talib picked the ball up, and the officials ruled it a fumble recovered by the Patriots.

One problem: Walker never had possession of the ball. Another problem: The replay assistant who is supposed to review all turnovers and tell the referee to take a closer look at the close calls never told the ref to review the play.

The officials got the play wrong on the field, but NFL director of instant replay Dean Blandino placed the blame on the replay assistant in an appearance on NFL Network.

“This actually never went to review,” Blandino said. “The replay official confirmed it upstairs without bringing the referee over. And that’s a mistake. We need to bring the referee over.”

Blandino said the replay official made the mistake of watching the replay in slow motion, which made it look like Walker had control of the ball for long enough to constitute a catch. But the replay official should have watched the replay at full speed, which would have shown that Gregory knocked the ball out of Walker’s hands just as Walker grabbed it.

“He slowed it down,” Blandino said. “If you go frame-by-frame you distort the time element and you can make it look like he has it longer than he does. We want to watch it at full speed.”

Still, Blandino said that the referee can’t take the time to review every single scoring play and turnover, and so the job needs to be the replay official’s to do.

“We have to be cognizant of the delays that replay causes in the game,” Blandino said. “We’ve given the replay official -- that’s his jurisdiction. He has to make those decisions.”

Unfortunately, too often this season we’ve seen the replay official make the wrong decision.